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Hypnosis Techniques for Young Children

How the therapeutic approach can be modified appropriately.

Key points

  • Hypnosis with young children is different in content and appearance than with adolescents and adults.
  • A key to effective hypnosis therapy is to use elements of the patient’s imagination and experiences within the interaction.
  • Hypnosis with young children can be very simple and taught with a brief intervention.

Medical hypnosis therapy with young children is different in content and appearance than with older children, adolescents, and adults (Anbar, 2021).

A key to effective hypnosis therapy is to use elements of the patient’s imagination and experiences within the interaction. Thus, with younger children, therapists and parents need to rely more on rhythm, rhyme, and child-friendly imagery as compared to what we might use with an older individual.

Alexandr Podvalny/Pexels
Source: Alexandr Podvalny/Pexels

An infant can be induced into a trance state by rhythmically shaking a set of keys unto which she can affix her gaze. This can be a useful method to help calm an infant.

A 2-year-old can enter a hypnotic state through confusion. For example, 2-year-olds often dislike undergoing a physical examination at a physician’s office and may protest because they dislike it when a stethoscope touches them. Routinely, I would tell a 2-year-old, “First, I am going to listen to mommy.” But rather than doing it, I place the stethoscope on the child’s chest. The children usually are very confused by this because they realize something is wrong with this picture. They quiet down as they process the unusual situation and remain calm throughout a brief exam!

A 3-year-old can be entranced by listening to a favorite rhythmic story such as by Dr. Seuss. One of my children at that age loved “The Three Little Pigs” told in a sing-song voice. When I told that story about the wolf huffing and puffing, her post-operative bandages were removed without any negative reaction.

A 4-year-old loves to incorporate what she can learn from stories. For example, a famous children’s story about Madeline describes how she loved to be tucked into bed at the end of an adventurous day. This story helped some of my patients be tucked calmly into bed instead of focusing on their fears. Other young children used the same story to help them lie still while undergoing medical scans.

A 5-year-old who was afraid of medical procedures overcame his fear by bringing in his toy soldiers and participating in conversation with me regarding how soldiers are brave if they are injured in battle. We never talked about the child specifically, but after our play he handled procedures well.

A 6-year-old undergoing placement of stitches in his knee spent the entire procedure with his hands behind his back, in a bag, trying to feel the bunnies that were supposed to be in there.

In each of these examples the young child did not obviously appear to be in a trance, as do many teenagers and adults: For example, with eyes closed and little motion. The first three children did pause with their usual activities, but the older children were engaged in active conversations during their therapy. The element of hypnosis that was present in all six children is that they shifted their mindset through focus on the therapeutic interaction. Further evidence of the hypnotic effect in the older children was that they incorporated the suggestions given to them.

Dan Counsell/Unsplash
Source: Dan Counsell/Unsplash

As is evident from the examples given, there is significant overlap between distraction techniques, storytelling, and play therapy with hypnosis. This fact further underscores that a hypnotic state of mind is not unusual but rather part of our day-to-day experience. Awareness of this fact should prompt parents, teachers, and other caretakers to consider carefully how they speak to children, in recognition of the possible hypnotic impact of any suggestions that are made on purpose or inadvertently.

Another important difference for hypnosis with young children is that their parents need to be involved and taught how to best help their children with use of hypnosis. For example, parents can be told to read and reread a story with embedded suggestions to their child. Or parents can remind their children of the suggestions given by the therapist, such as that soldiers are brave. With older children, and especially teens, my instruction to parents usually is to stay away and trust that their children can help themselves. The parent who attempts to coach a teen to do hypnosis usually succeeds in ensuring the teen will do the opposite.

Working successfully with young children requires a therapist who is willing to be flexible and go with the child, as opposed to therapy that follows a particular protocol.

Take Home Message

Young children tend to accept what they are told much more simply than do older children. Thus, hypnosis with children of that age group often can be very simple and taught with a brief intervention.

Copyright Ran D. Anbar


Anbar, Ran D. 2021. “Changing Children’s Lives with Hypnosis: A Journey to the Center.” Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

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