In gentle teaching we understand the word ‘method’ as an expression for a specific way of interacting with the person. Specially in these techniques you see the twofold strategy of gentle teaching: we teach the person the feeling of companionship with us and we teach ourselves how to be a gentle teacher for this specific person.

We describe four techniques:

  • Dialogue
  • Giving new meaning
  • Sharing
  • Stretching



The dialogue is the most important technique. This is where is starts with. Relation is dialogue. It is an exchange of feelings, gestures and words between two persons.

The dialogue starts where the person is. We don’t use the dialogue to tell him what we (don’t) want him to do, but we invite him to express who he is and how he feels. But also we use the dialogue to present ourselves to him and to let him experience who we are and how we feel.


The dialogue can have many different forms. It can be playing peek-a-boo, it can be a real conversation, but it can also be singing a song and inviting the person to sing with you.

When he is emotional during the dialogue, we validate these emotions but also we try to prevent that he gets stuck in it. We go with him in his sorrow and then gently focus on feelings of safe, love and joy. It’s waving in and out.

During the dialogue it is very important to stay aware of our presence. So not the full 100% of our attention goes to the content or form of the dialogue. We keep paying attention to his feelings and to ours. When either one of us gets tensed, we slow down a bit and when we are at ease again, we give more energy.


In the dialogue we want to teach the person that it’s good to express himself and to show his emotions without getting out of the contact with us. We want to teach him that he is fully accepted by us and that relating with us will be a way out of his sorrow, pain and loneliness.

For many caregivers being in a real dialogue is often very difficult. It is easier to tell the other what we want him to do, or just to listen to his story, than to be fully present in a real dialogue. Many care givers believe that they should not share their life stories and feelings with their persons. But as long as you don’t show to the person who you are, you will be one of the thousand or more care givers who have already passed through his life.


Giving new meaning

Without realizing, our relation with the person is coloured by the meaning we give to him and his behaviors. This meaning is based on earlier experiences or on expectations about the future with this person or with people like him. The same goes for our person. He also gives meaning to us and our behaviors based on experience with us or people – caregivers – like us. When these experiences – memories – are negative for us or our person, developing companionship is difficult. So we explicitly have to create new memories.

We can do this for ourselves by writing down the images and beliefs we have about the person and examine them one by one to investigate how true they really are. End even if they are true, we can decide that they are irrelevant and shouldn’t hinder us in opening ourselves completely for our person. This isn’t just an intellectual exercise, we have to deepen it by feeling what it means for us to let go our old meanings.


Another strategy is to emphasize his positive qualities and review his life history from the perspective of what he has been going through. Look at the suffering he has had and which also made him who he is now. By this strategy you develop a new meaning about him that he is a person to like and who needs a lot of your warm and unconditional support.

A third strategy is to look through the behaviors of the person on which our old memories are based and look at the underlying needs and vulnerabilities of the person. Always remember that the behavior is not the main problem. The main problem is the underlying feeling of the person and is incapability to deal with this feeling without our help.


It is also necessary that our persons learns to give a new meaning to us and our presence. But we can’t expect him to be aware of this and to do it by himself. He needs to learn this by how we continuously use our presence, hands, eyes and words  as warm, loving and protecting as possible. In the beginning we may even have to exaggerate a bit.

Giving new meaning isn’t only for how the person sees us or other people, but sometimes also for how he sees himself. For people with a low self esteem or who dislike themselves and express this f.i. with self injurious behavior, it’s important that we help them to give a new and positive meaning to themselves and their body.



Learning to share is the beginning of the forming of our identity and the start of socialization. It is the beginning of the experience that there is a ‘me and you’ or a ‘me and many you’s ’.In normal child development sharing starts with evoking the first smile from the little baby. Later it will be the awareness of the parents presence and sharing the same space. When the child is around two years old, sharing begins to get real serious when the child learns to share his toys or the attention of the parents with his brothers and sisters or with other children while playing together. All forms of sharing which are essential for the identity-forming and for the social development of the person.


These types of sharing we also have to teach many of our persons. Specially those who are developmentally in an egocentric stage of life or who have such bad memories of the presence of others that they have withdrawn in themselves.

It’s important to realize not to start this sharing before there is at least a god beginning of the feeling of companionship. The person will need this fundament before developing further.


Also care givers may have to learn to share with the persons. Not to share their material wealth, but to share life, at least during their shift. In many group homes or activity centers you see parallel lives  of the caregivers and the persons. Care givers have their own conversations, they have their own office, they close the door of the office when they are sitting together, speaking about the persons, etc. Care givers may have many good reasons for doing what they are doing, but from the perspective of the person it isn’t good. Care givers have to learn to share their lives with the persons, sit together and talk together: about the weather and other casual subject, about subjects that are of interest for the persons and above all about what it means to be together and to help each other.



Just as with ‘sharing’ we don’t’ start stretching before there is at least a fundament of companionship. With stretching we mean that we very gently teach the person that also in more challenging situations he can feel sale and loved in our presence and that he can trust our guidance.

Some people will, due to their personal vulnerabilities never be able to know how to cope with stressful situations or to respect the borders of others around him. So to help a person  cope with life situations without harming himself or others, we will need to be his ‘moral guide’. And he will have to learn that our guidance doesn’t mean that we are domineering or suppressing him.


There are five types of stretching.


The first type of stretching is increasing the energy and excitement in an activity and than intensifying the contact and tempering the energy. For instance: you play together and make a lot of fun, than intensify the contact and stop the play for a moment, be both at ease for a moment  and then start playing again.

By this way of stretching you teach the person that also in a high level of energy or (positive) stress you can make mutual and safe contact and come back to ease. This is a good preliminary for the other types of stretching in which you are working with ‘negative’ stress.


The second type of stretching is to slowly stretch the time between the moment when the person wants something (f.i. coffee) and the moment you give it. When the person asks for coffee, you intensify the contact and say things like “.. just wait a while and be together, you will get your coffee in a moment”. And before waiting for the coffee is too much for him, you give him his coffee and smile to him, touch him gently, etc.


The third type of stretching is teaching the person hat ‘enough is enough’. You start teaching this when the person wants something that isn’t so important. Gradually you can teach ‘enough is enough’ on more important issues.


The fourth type of stretching is asking the person to do something. We start with a very small action and gradually we ask more of the other.

Important with these four types of stretching is that you don’t get out of contact. Make sure the excitement or stress isn’t too much for the person and that he will get out of contact and withdraws in his own emotions.


In the fifth type of stretching you get out of the contact with the person and then restore the contact again. You start with peek-a boo and gradually you stretch the time and distance between the moments of contact.