Be A Better Parent With NLP
I don’t know about you but when I became a parent for the first time I found myself having to do the most important job in my life without prior training or a manual. I also did not have a role model, as my parents did not raise me. My personal childhood experience made me determined to be the best parent I can be so I read a lot of books about raising children. Some were very useful and some were not. However the thing that had the most profound positive effect on my parenting style was NLP.
NLP is based on a number of presuppositions. These presuppositions are simply assumptions or generalisations about the world. If you were to practice and adopt these presuppositions, it would help to ease your journey through life.
In this blog I will explain some of these presuppositions in relation to parenting.
The map is not the territory and people respond according to their map of the world
We each perceive the world through our five senses –the external territory. We then take this external phenomenon and make an internal representation of it –the map. This external map we create of the world outside is influenced by what we call filters in NLP. These are our perceptions, our beliefs and values. It follows then that what is outside can never be, the exact same as what we create inside our brain. Furthermore, each person, according to his or her own filters, will create a different map of this same world that we perceive. In other words, we each have our individual map of the world and in order to communicate effectively and easily, it is important to understand the internal reality or the map of the person we are communicating with. In this instance the other person is our child. As a parent it is extremely important that we are able to look at the world through the eyes of our children. See what they are seeing, hear what they are hearing and feel what they are feeling. It is only after meeting them at their own map of the world that we can gently steer them in a different direction if need be.
This presupposition was useful for me when helping my daughter overcome her childhood bedtime fears. Instead of being dismissive, through key NLP questions I was able to view the situation from her position and together we figured out a way that would make those fears go away.
What helps you as a parent to understand your child’s world is, for example, watching their favourite TV programme, listening to their favourite music, laughing with them at the latest viral video on YouTube, and familiarising yourself with the material of their favourite author as these things are big influencers in your child’s world.
You cannot not communicate
“I see communication as a huge umbrella that covers and affects all that goes on between human beings. Once a human being has arrived on this earth, communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationships she or he makes with others and what happens to each in the world.” (Virginia Satir)
Virginia Satir, a renowned family therapist, goes on to explain that communication is learned and babies learn all aspects about communication from those people who are in charge of them from birth.
When you interact with your children, be aware that your communication is not only verbal. Actually what you say has a very small impact compared to the tone you use and how you hold your body. The influences in percentage terms are as follows:
Satir also adds that the above three elements are also influenced by our values, our expectations, our knowledge and our past experiences.
So when you communicate with your children be fully present in the moment so that you make sure that you are not sending confusing messages to your child through a mismatch between your words, your tone and your body language. The words “ of course I love you!” through clenched teeth do not convey a loving message. Make sure that you are responding to the present situation and not to something or someone from your past that your child’s actions or words happen to remind you of. Be aware of how your voice sounds and how loud or soft you are speaking. I am often surprised when my husband and children point out to me that I have been shouting. To me it sounds normal but on hearing a recording of my voice once I perfectly understood what they meant.
Another underestimated aspect of communication is that of touching. “Touching is the most telling means of conveying emotional information between two people”, says Virginia Satir. Be aware of how you use your hands to handle your children and that every single touch has a feeling connected with it whether it is a loving caress or an angry slap. What is your touch conveying to your children? Is it love, uncertainty, fear, weakness, excitement or anger?
The meaning of communication is the response it elicits
The responsibility of communicating with your child lies with you as the parent. So if you say something to your child and he/she seems to misunderstand you, do not blame your child. Just think of a different way you can communicate the same thing until your child understands you. It is so much easier to blame others than to accept responsibility. Accepting responsibility might be painful at first but it is so much more powerful than blame and is conducive to change.
What can help here is finding out what your child’s preferred representational system is and using that system to communicate with him or her.
I remember how on one occasion my husband, whose preferred representational system is auditory digital, was getting frustrated at his failed attempts in explaining a homework assignment to my eldest daughter, whose preferred representational system is visual. I intervened and employed a few visual aids and used visual predicates to explain the very same thing and my daughter got it from the first attempt.
If what you are doing is not working, do something different
Take a moment and reflect on how you react when your children misbehave. How do you respond when there is a conflict between you and your child? Is this response appropriate and in proportion to the situation at hand? More importantly is this response working for you? If not then isn’t it time to try something different?
On one occasion my daughter came back from school in a foul mood. She was being quite rude. As a parent I could have done several things. I could have reprimanded her and sent her off to her room for example. What I chose to do was this:
“You obviously have had a bad day and you could do with a hug.” I said to my daughter as I embraced her very tightly and gave her a kiss.
I could feel her tension instantly leave her body. We then sat and talked about what happened at school to put her in such a foul mood. At the end of our chat she spontaneously apologized for taking it out on me.
Sometimes doing the unexpected gives an element of surprise and in turn can bring unexpected positive reactions. It can lead to what is called a pattern interrupt in NLP. One story comes to mind that illustrates this technique and that is of a mother who reacted to her two year old lying on the floor and throwing a tantrum by doing the same. The child was so surprised by her mum’s reaction that she stopped dead in her tracks! For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you want to change your child’s behaviour, start by changing your own actions and their reactions will change in response to your changed actions.
You can learn to do things differently no matter how long things have been going in the wrong direction.
Every behaviour, has a positive intent
This is a challenging presupposition as many people find it difficult to understand why some individuals often behave in a bizarre or destructive way. In NLP we believe that underlying every behaviour, is a positive intention. This applies even to seemingly bad or non-productive behaviours. What is important here is to uncover the positive intent, the purpose, of this behaviour, as there is always a reason. Once the purpose is established we can teach or help the person, our child in this instance, find healthier and more ecological ways to satisfy his/her intention.
Children do what they do to get your attention and getting a parent’s attention for a negative behaviour is better than getting no attention at all. As a parent, think how you can give your children that attention without the need for unacceptable behaviour. So the next time you catch your teenage child smoking or drinking, take time and understand your child’s intention behind this behaviour and see if together you can come with a number of other, healthier, behaviours that can satisfy this same intention.
This also applies when we examine our parenting behaviours. As parents we all have the best intentions towards our children. However, we sometimes get it wrong. So by being creative we can think of other healthier behaviours that can bring about what we originally intended to bring in our children. We all want to bring up confident children with high self-esteem, yet sometimes the manner we use to discipline our children can cause damage to their self worth. What helps here is to keep the end outcome in mind especially when you are punishing your child for unacceptable behaviour. Think what specifically you want your child to learn or pay attention to when disciplining them and check whether that specific form of discipline achieves the outcome you have in mind. For example slapping your son for hitting his sister does not teach him that physical violence is unacceptable because you are committing the very thing you’re telling him not to do.
People are much more than their behaviour
This presupposition tends to make us separate the behaviour from the person. You are not your behaviour. Here you tend to accept the person but not their behaviour. So instead of telling your screaming child “you are a naughty boy”, you say instead “ I love you but I don’t like the way you are behaving right now”.
This is best explained by quoting a response that Martin Luther King gave to a journalist on how to deal with racists. He said,
“I’m talking about a type of love which will cause you to love the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does.”
Children or people in general sometimes behave badly because they find themselves in an environment that stops them from being the best they can be. Change the environment and you change the person. This is explained further in this next presupposition.
We have the resources within us to achieve what we want
Every one of us has the potential to develop and grow. This presupposition asserts that you, as a parent, and your child can bring about change or achieve your outcomes by using the rich pool of skills and inner resources you already have inside you. What you need to do first is, identify those skills and seek them out from other areas of your life and then apply them to your parenting situation. For example, if you are faced with a problem at work, how do you go about solving it? What skills and resources do you use? Can any of these be applied in your home situation, to solve a problem you have with your child?
When I am faced with a problem I research it. I read a lot of books about the subject and talk to experts or other people in my situation and see how they have resolved it. I don’t tend to give up until I find a solution because I deeply believe that every problem has a solution. I adopted these same skills in my parenting style. I never ever give up on my child. We go on working together until we find a solution.
Virginia Satir suggests that if you as parents discover that something is going wrong in your family, then treat this as you would when a red light in your car indicates that something isn’t working right. Stop, investigate, share your observations, and see what can be done. If you can’t change it, find someone you can trust who can.
There is no failure only feedback
Remember that as a parent you are human and humans make mistakes. When things go wrong, recognise that, learn from the mistake and see what you can do differently next time. Forgive yourself and try again. Keep on trying until getting it right becomes second nature. Listen to your children and use their comments as feedback. It is amazing what you can learn about yourself from the mouths of your own children.
As Virginia Satir outlines in her book The New People Making, we as parents are in the business of “peoplemaking” and for this business to be successful we must follow this pattern that she writes about in her introduction. A pattern she saw absent in troubled families but evident in untroubled and nurturing families. These patterns are:
-Self Worth is high
-Communication is direct, clear, specific and honest
-Rules are flexible, human, appropriate, and subject to change
-The link to society is open and hopeful, and is based on choice