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Flexibility = Control

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

Talking about the NLP Presupposition - The person with the most flexibility controls the system

I love this one! It is perfect for children because it is all about new possibilities and that can be fun. It’s about changes and choices. I often introduce them to this concept by saying,

‘Imagine on your computer keyboard you only had one key and that’s all you could use? Or on your piano keyboard you could only use one key? How could you create a beautiful story or a beautiful piece of music with just one key or one note? Use the whole keyboard and combine that with your curiosity to explore how you can use the full capability of that keyboard and you will make beautiful music or a beautiful story.’

Children often feel that they don’t have many choices, their life is controlled by parents and teachers, sometimes also older siblings and even younger siblings who take priority. Their choice can be binary: yes or no, this way or that way, your way or my way. But there are, in fact, many ways and children have the imagination to explore them, but usually don’t because they feel powerless to do so.

I feel much of our work is to encourage children to build this flexibility muscle and gain the power of choice in their life through understanding how their mind works, their filters, and how to access different language patterns to gain rapport then pace to lead. It is often when children feel metaphorically ‘backed into a corner’ that they fight back, often with unintended consequences.


James hated his name. His friends at school teased him calling him ‘Jamie’ singing ‘Jamie, Jamie, Jamie,’ which really annoyed him. It annoyed him so much that he would punch whoever he could reach. He was told off, mum was called into the school and he was told not to do it again. He tried walking away but this made it worse because the boys chased after him. He tried ignoring it but he couldn’t.

I put a wastepaper basket in the middle of the room and gave him a tennis ball.

‘How many different ways can you get that tennis ball in the basket?’ I asked him.

He was nine years old so I suggested that nine was a good number to aim for.

James had great fun doing this. I find if you can create a physical task for children to get the learning, it works much better than simply telling them.

Once he’d done that, I put out a big sheet of paper and gave him some felt pens.

‘Now write down nine ways you can respond differently to your friends when they tease you.’

He spent some time thinking about it and managed nine ways. Not all of them would have been successful in my opinion but remember ‘the map is not the territory’. What do I know about the world of nine-year-olds in the playground? I only know what I’m told, not how it actually is.

The point of the exercise is much more about a child taking responsibility for their response, taking control and having other choices available to control the situation for themselves.

The more choices you have, the greater flexibility you have.

Other ways we can limit our choices is by using ‘stuck’ words like ‘must’, ‘should’, ‘ought to’ rather than ‘unstuck’ words like ‘could’.

Here, instead of doing what we’d like to do, we do what we ‘should’ do.

‘I’d love to go for a walk in nature but I must do the shopping.’

Of course, there are things we do have to do, but again, are there ways to create choice or at least the sense of choice?

‘I’m going to go for a walk in nature and then go shopping.’

We also have the choice of being in rapport or not, knowing how we communicate, whether we tend to use visual, auditory or kinaesthetic language patterns and which metaprogrammes we use. So when our communication isn’t working as we’d like, we can switch to another.

Extract from my book - Understanding children and teens - order now online or from your local bookshop.

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