Children with ADHD win confidence in quiet surroundings
A first article in a series of two about working with children with ADHD
By Lotten Kärre and Ton Hettema, photographs by Evelien Schoondergang
Quiet places are not always easy to find in our crowded world.
It took us some time to locate the out of the way school building in the heart
of the Dutch countryside where Ingrid Bunnik works with children with ADHD (Attention
Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) symptoms. With the aid of a mobile phone we
eventually arrived at the school for a conversation with Ingrid about the considerations
involved in dealing with the challenges of ADHD.
Bunnik has friendly, searching eyes and a very down to earth approach to life.
She originally trained as a Cesar therapist, and in her early work she found
many of the children who came to her for assistance had similar symptoms, they
had problems with things like coordination, concentration, hyperactivity, hypersensitivity,
emotional outbursts, keeping up friendships, fear of failure and so on. These,
and other symptoms, are often at play when a child (or grown-up) is diagnosed
with ADHD. However, Ingrid prefers not to think about the diagnosis when she
meets the children.
Ingrid: ‘Whilst we need a diagnosis to help identify
a possible remedy, it can tend to give the person a feeling of deficiency and
diminishes confidence. The symptoms described in ADHD are similar to those of
stress; the fight or flight mechanism kicks in for survival and overrides the
thinking capacity. After some time this pattern becomes established and difficult
to reset. If the stress factors can be diminished or reduced it can help the
person by quietening these behavioural patterns. Processes that are suppressed
when the person becomes reactive, such as thinking, evaluating and making choices,
can then be stimulated.
The young people I work with are between 3 and 20 years of age. They visit
me once a week for a session, usually with their mother. Their problems are
often a result of some kind of psychological obsession or blockage, such as
the feeling of wanting to be perfect, the fear of being blamed or ‘nobody
likes me’. They need to begin to experience the opposite sensation, as
an example, that you can have fun even though you don’t win a game, or
that making a mistake is okay, you can try again. This kind of experience frees
the natural capacities. We spend time in the gym or outside on the sport field
or in the garden. The stillness of the surroundings and the design of the school
help a great deal.’
Topaz: Given the sensitivities of these young people, how
do you establish contact with the children?
Ingrid: ‘When they first come to the school, I walk
with them through the whole place, inside and out, to show them where everything
is; the toilets, the heating, the kitchen, the office, the fish, the gardens,
the people – everything. It makes them feel safe and at home and gives
them time to get used to my voice and speeds. The children need to feel that
they are welcome. I tell them that a lot of problems can be solved here, if
they want to work for it. I encourage them to make clear to themselves what
they want to change and become better in. And of course I ask them if they want
to come again. If the answer is ‘yes’ then we continue. I have never
yet heard a ‘no’.
What do you do with the children during the sessions?
Ingrid: ‘I involve the young people in a great deal of physical activity.
As an example, how to sigh deeply to release tension. Sighing is a variation
of breathing out and helps to exhaust tension and promote relaxation. Modern
times constantly encourage the breathing in of impressions and there is a gap
between how much we take in and how much is breathed out. Things get locked
in. So the child sighs deeply and often feels better on the spot!
Mostly the children are subject to too many impressions and do not have the
ability to filter some of them out. So I help them to create new filters. We
play games, and while they do this I call over and confirm simple things - their
name, the noises they hear, the things they see, the day of the week, how they
feel today; how the body feels, how relaxed they are, how it feels inside their
head, such as thoughts or worries. The world inside them and the world around
them needs conscious notation to create order in the chaos of the mass of different
There are all kinds of games and exercises that we do; playing with balls whilst
counting, walking along a balancing bar, experiencing different speeds in moving
and talking, and so on. I have a stock of activities and use my intuition to
suggest games that belong with a particular child or else I ask them what they
would like to do on that day. It is important not to place too much pressure
on the child because this will clearly shut their systems down and it will defeat
the point of the programme.
There is an exact methodology blended with games, sensitivity exercises and
enjoyment. The method has developed over years and is known as Pentabalance,
where Penta stands for the five-fold human system which requires a proper balance
between the various parts and processes. It is based on my experience and my
studies at the Template Stichting, especially the study of growth patterns of
children and the Position Purple training that I have undertaken.
Topaz: What kind of things do you and the children talk about
during the sessions?
Ingrid: ‘It can be light or serious, it depends on what
is going on and what has happened in the time since we last met. I reflect the
progress and qualities that I observe, which teaches the children to also start
to confirm their own successes. It is vital that the young people realise that
they can actually choose to no longer be the victims of the many influences
around them and the behavioural patterns inside them. It is not easy, but step
by step it is possible to assert new patterns and to learn to respond rather
How long does it take before patterns start to change?
Ingrid: ‘It can take a life time! Getting to know, recognise
and understand your own patterns can be challenging and not always pleasant.
What I do is simply get the process started and after a certain period, say
nine months, the young person begins to feel confident enough to continue with
their own power and belief. By this time, they have proven to themselves that
there is a place of peace and quiet inside themselves to which they can return
when they want. They have also learned various methods of releasing tensions
and unloading unnecessary or unwanted energy. They have experienced the ability
to be a neutral observer, when in situations of conflict, to count their successes
and to talk to themselves about what they want and don’t want. So they
equip themselves with a new kind of ‘toolkit’. Of course, I assure
them that life is not without resistance and test, but that a wise person uses
this to gain strength.
Topaz: How do you think about the massive increase of ADHD
in the world?
Ingrid: ‘In part I think it reflects how much chaos
and pressure there is in all our lives today, and how little real rest exists.
I made an interesting discovery when I was pregnant. As the pregnancy progressed
I had to rest more and more and this was accompanied by an increasing stillness
inside me. I began to notice that the children responded strongly to this when
I worked with them during the pregnancy and it had a great stilling effect on
them. This showed me how much we influence our surrounding by how we are. Children
are open and sensitive and their inner lives are challenged to handle all the
many aspects of modern life. Either a child gets too filled up and the overload
burns their inside circuitry like a broken light bulb, or a child can lose contact
with reality and shuts down and hardens.
Topaz: Why do you believe your method is producing such good
Ingrid: ‘I feel it’s to do with believing in what
I do and practicing what I do with and upon myself. The more you practise what
you promote, the more you create a kind of atmosphere where your belief can
‘jump’ to another.
Topaz: What are your plans for the future?
Ingrid: ‘Right now our training institute is running a programme of intensive
networking with parents, teachers and others involved in children’s upbringing.
My vision is to work with others to create a climate that helps the children
build what they need.’
The evening has passed and it is time for us to leave. In the garden outside
we see the silhouette of the hammock and the long bar. We agree with Ingrid
that our photographer will return in daylight for some pictures. Driving back
on the dark country roads we are left with a strange warmth and quietness inside.
One of us speaks out the thought that occupies us both; it takes courage and
confidence to live. Clearly Ingrid can help build it.