"Fools Rush In"
By Dr. La Foo
We were told by staff that a little girl was extremely upset, screaming and crying. "We haven't been able to get in her room. Why don't you see if you can?"
We could hear the girl, about five years old, screaming at the top of her lungs. She sat surrounded by family members, who were unable to soothe her. Without hesitation, my fellow clown doctor took the plunge. Using the clown's art of exaggeration and excess - and risking failure, rejection, and possibly offense - she ran into the room screaming just as loudly as the little girl, asking if she could please use the bathroom, she just had to go! Her desperate frenzy distracted the little girl. She stopped crying, and stared. Seeing the clown pleading, the little girl nodded her head yes. The clown ran in the bathroom, then ran back out with ten feet of toilet paper hanging out the back of her skirt.
"I've got to use your sink to wash my hands!" she said. "Is that okay?" The little girl, with an astonished look on her face, nodded yes. The clown turned around to wash her hands at the sink, humming a little tune and wiggling her behind in time to the music, causing the toilet paper to swish back and forth. She dried her hands and turned toward the patient's bed. Spotting a teddy bear, the clown exclaimed, "Oh, I'm afraid of bears! Does he bite?" The girl shook her head no.
So the clown approached the bear, closer and closer, overcoming her fear enough to pet it and find that he was safe. She then introduced the bear to everyone in the room, who were invited to hug the bear and not be afraid. As the bear hugged and kissed everyone, the little girl smiled. The bear then decided to rub and kiss the top of daddy's bald head. The little girl laughed. The clown presented the little girl with the bear, who held it tightly, thanked her profusely for the use of her bathroom, and said good-bye.
So what was the art here? We knew we had to distract the child, and that the only way was to match the energy and intensity of the child's emotions. When that succeeded, we created a reason to be in the room that had nothing to do with the child, but put the child in control by asking her permission to be there. We knew we could not interact with the child directly, so we worked peripherally, unseen in the bathroom, then at the sink, and then with the bear. We wanted the child to identify with us, so we pretended to be afraid, as the child was. We modeled trust by overcoming fear of the bear and created a safe space for the child by involving everyone else. We provided the emotional release of humor. Finally, we gave the child an object of security that had been acknowledged and loved by everyone in the room.
We so love our work.