Finding Your Center: A Pedagogical Story For Anxious Children of All Ages

Finding Your Center

A Pedagogical Story for Anxious Children

of All Ages

As many of
you know I am back in the Waldorf School teaching first grade.  It is such a gift to be able to freely teach
the whole child.  One of the ways this is
done is through stories.  Since the first
day of school I have been telling the children a running story that weaves
around the Great Secret of Beauty.  In
the story a boy and a girl, a grandfather, an angel, a dragon, and various other
characters appear and have many adventures and talks together. The subjects and
themes of the story are culled from where I think the emotional states of the
children are.  Since there are a few students
who are a little nervous or anxious for one reason or another, this part of the
story came out.  It is for all children,
big and small who sometimes feel afraid and do things they wish they didn’t.

One day the
boy was sitting in the grass in his backyard. 
He had been thinking about what the dragon had said to him the day
before.  For sometimes when it seems a
child is not listening, it is well to remember that it only seems that
way.  Children are listening, and when
they are ready they will reflect on what you have said.  And on this particular morning, the boy was
thinking about what his friend the dragon had told him the day before.

“I used to
hit people with my tail,” said the dragon, “In fact, I used to eat people. I
don’t know why I did these things.  I
guess I was actually nervous and afraid and my fears came out like that.  And besides, people are yummy.”

“But how did
you learn to not hit and eat people?” asked the boy.

“Time,” said
the dragon, “it took time and practice.”

“Will I ever
change?” asked the boy, “I don’t want to hit my friends and say mean
things.  I just want to have fun and
sometimes I worry I will never change.”

And as he
was remembering the dragon’s answer he heard another voice, a tiny, slow voice.  One that came as if it measured every word it

“You are
changing,” said the voice, “and your friend was right, it takes time.”

“How did you
know what I was thinking?” the boy asked the keeper of the voice he could not
yet see.

“You were
thinking out loud,” said the voice.

And then the
boy’s ears caught the direction of the sound and when he followed that direction
with his eyes, he found the source of that slow, measured voice.  It was coming from a snail sliding slowly
towards him carrying his great, spiraling house upon his back.

“Oh, hello

morning,” said the snail stopping to rest on the leaf of an autumn colored mum.

“So you
think I can change?” asked the boy, “You really think I will stop hitting other
children?  I really don’t want to hurt
anyone.  It’s just that sometimes I get so
mad, especially when I’m feeling scared, and then before I realize what’s
happened, I’ve hurt someone.”

“Can change?”
said the snail, “You are changing.  Some
changes are quick, like a shooting star flashing across the night sky; other
changes are slow, like winter melting into spring.  You need to practice of course, find other
ways to move through your fears and worries. 
You need to find your center. But you are changing, rest assured.”

“My center?  What does that mean?”

“It’s how I
built this house I carry with me.  And I
built it without any hands.”

“I’m afraid
I don’t understand,” said the boy, “sometimes I feel like I don’t understand

“Well,” said
the snail, “walk the path of my house with me. 
I’ll lead you around the lawn.  As
we walk the shape of my spiraling shell, think of a place you like to go when
you are feeling afraid.  Think of a thing
you like to do that helps you feel calm, peaceful, and happy.  And as we walk this spiraling walk you will
discover your center.”

And so the
snail slipped slowly to the ground and began sliding through the grass a great
spiral, a labyrinth that slowly unfurled inwards towards a still, focused center.  The boy walked behind the snail, careful not
to go ahead or step on the snail, for his steps were much bigger than the
sliding trail of the talking snail.  As
they moved together, the boy thought about times he was mad or afraid, nervous
or scared and he suddenly remembered that when he felt those ways he often
found himself drawing.  In fact, as he
neared the center of the spiral he knew—drawing was his centering place. And as
he stood in the center of the spiral, the spiral drawn by the snail, he felt
happy and relieved to know he had a place to go when he felt uncomfortable

“So you see,”
said the snail, with a voice as gradual as the dawn, “we all have a
center.  We all have something we can do,
or a place we can go where we can pause, rest, and calm ourselves down.  And when we go to that place, or do that
thing, over and over, over time and over years, we build ourselves a house, a
house we can carry within, well, in my case on my back, but the point is, we
build ourselves a house of habits—healthy, helpful habits.  And these become a safe place to go.”

understand,” said the boy, “is it OK if I have more than one centering place?”

course!  You humans are like that.  They have many mansions within themselves
that they can explore when they need to.”

“Oh good,”
said the boy, “because mostly I draw when I’m feeling nervous, but other times
I go for walks, ride my bike, talk with grandfather, and sometimes, and you’re
the first person I’ve ever told this: sometimes I even sing and dance.”

said the snail, “Thank you for telling me. 
Those are all perfect places to go and things to do to find your center.  And the more you go to those places, and the
more you do the things you love, you will find yourself hitting your friends
less and less.  You will find yourself
saying fewer and fewer naughty things. 
In fact you will see that your friends have their own centering places
and things they love and you’ll know then that they too have hearts that
sometimes feel afraid and nervous just like you do, and then you will find
yourself just being nice because you are really so much alike.  And oh, what fun you will have sharing your
centers, inviting your friends to walk with you, draw with you, and sing with

“That does
sound fun,” said the boy.

“Well,” said
the snail, “I must be off, I have to get into town soon and meet the man who
owns the bicycle store. I am going to buy a bike today!  Toodle-Loo!”

“Wait,” said
the boy, “I have one more question please.”

“Ask away.”

sometimes I forget my centering places. 
What should I do then?”

said the snail, “Breathe deeply from your belly, still yourself like a mountain,
and that will help center you.”

“Thank you,”
said the boy.

welcome,” said the snail, “and another thing you can do to help yourself find
your centering place is to talk with someone you trust.  Sometimes we all need help finding our centering

And with
that the snail raced towards town, which if you were looking at the snail you would
never have guessed he was racing.  You
would have just thought: “There goes the slowest friend I know.  Look at him go carrying his house upon his back,
carrying his centering place that he built without any hands; that he built
with the slow, patient practice of centering himself.  There he goes to go buy a bike.  A bike? 
How is he going to ride a bike?”

And once the
story was over, without me ever asking: “Do you have a centering place or
something you do that helps you feel better when you’re feeling afraid?”, the
children, one by one, shared their centering places.

“I go to a
still, quiet place.”

“I draw.”

“I go for

“I ride my


“I sleep.”

“I read.”

“I pet my cat.”

And while I
did not ask them, I will ask you.  

is your centering place?  

What do you do
when you’re feeling anxious and afraid?”

Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog