When I first discovered NLP 24yrs ago, my first response was not a positive one. I associated it with business and leadership, sales and basically not something that would be of interest to me. I was a young mum of four children ranging in age from toddler to teen and could not imagine how NLP could help me as a parent. I'm afraid I have to admit to not being as open-minded then as I am now. Thank goodness for growing up and developing a more flexible mindset!
I would have said I was a positive person and that my approach to parenting has always been positive yet when I trained in NLP, I discovered that there were aspects of my parenting that were not in fact very positive.
I had what we call in NLP, 'limiting beliefs'. Before NLP I would simply have called them 'being realistic'! For example,
"We'll never get to school on time"
"I can't get them to bed without an argument"
"She won't pass her GCSE Spanish if she won't practise her oral"
These can fall into any of these types of limiting belief.
1. Generalisations - when we create rules about situations using words like 'always', 'never', 'everyone', 'no-one' and so on where we are oblivious of the exceptions that will give us the insight as to what works. For example, ask yourself "when do I get them into bed without an argument?" and this tells you what the winning formula might be.
2. Distortions are when we assume we know what's going to happen in the future, or how our child feels, or what your teen wants. Here we need to ask the questions and recognise that whilst we love them, we are not them.
3. Association is when we are so emotionally involved in the situation that we are unable to view it objectively and make a sensible decision. I remember getting so cross ..... and tired.....and upset that things sometimes got out of hand when they didn't need to, just because I'd made the behaviour or what was said, mean something it didn't.
It would be useful now to share with you the NLP Beliefs of excellence. These are the beliefs that John Grinder and Richard Bandler created as a code for excellence. They researched the ‘difference that makes the difference’, in other words, what beliefs, when held, make the difference between achieving one’s outcome or not achieving it. That outcome could be anything. It could be something simple that you want to do, like getting your child to bed with ease, getting them to school on time or their homework being done. It’s tempting to add ‘without a drama’ but what we do there is create an ‘away from’ outcome where we focus on what we don’t want – drama. What you focus on is what you get more of. It’s sometimes called the Law of Attraction. It’s about what we put out there in our ‘energy field’. Children understand this idea. They know very well that what they expect to happen generally does happen, especially when it’s something negative.
1. If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got
As parents we often find ourselves repeating the same words and actions hoping to get a different result. Maybe occasionally we do actually get the result we want, but mostly we don’t, and yet we continue in that hope that the success will be repeated. We get in a rut because what we are doing is something we did with the last child, or something a friend recommended or something we read in a book (like this one) or this was the way we were brought up ourselves. There’s almost certainly a good reason behind it, it isn’t just random. Yet, despite the fact that it isn’t working, we continue. Maybe we blame ourselves, maybe we blame them or we blame ‘the situation’, whatever that might be at the time. But there’s no need to find someone or something to blame. Just do something different. Do it in the spirit of experimentation, of curiosity, with a positive intention to create the best possible communication with your child. Remember to focus on the outcome you want, think about ‘towards’ and what you DO want to happen.
2. There’s no failure, only feedback
As a parent, I remember feeling like I was a failure plenty of times. I didn’t tend to feel it about my work, but the relationship with your children is so much more intense. We are more ‘associated’ with them and there almost isn’t a boundary between us, emotionally. Work is transient and we move from job to job in a much less intense fashion. We are more disassociated and this makes the difference. When our child feels something, we feel it too, so we can feel responsible when they struggle in life, and we want to fix whatever is wrong for them. It’s easy, then, to feel a failure.
But what if you could reframe this and see it simply as feedback that you can do something about. When your child needs help, this isn’t a reflection of your skills as a parent, just an opportunity to be curious about how to help them.
It’s the same for children who fear failure, encourage them to see it as an opportunity to think differently, to do something different. If we didn’t fail and make mistakes, how would we learn and develop? We may feel foolish or disappointed in that moment of ‘failure’ but when we look back on it, we realise that it needed to happen for us to move on and make changes.
I find the word ‘just’ helps here. When something goes wrong, reframe it as ‘just a mistake’, ‘just a wrong turn’, ‘just a bad grade’. We can always do better next time.
3. There’s a positive intention behind every behaviour
This belief is also about being curious and having a positive attitude. When something happens that you find annoying or upsetting, be curious and wonder what your child’s positive intention might be. Start perhaps by thinking about when you yourself did or said something similar. What was behind that? We all have a deep need to be seen, heard and understood, and when we feel we are not, there is hurt, anger, frustration and pain. How we express these emotions may not make sense to others but it is done with the positive intention of communicating a need that feels unmet in that moment. Your challenge as a parent is to discover what that need might be and how to meet it.
4. If you spot it, you’ve got it
Think about those you admire. What it is about them you admire? Who is it? .............................................................................................. What is it about them that you admire, find inspiring? .............................................................................................. And in what way are you also like that? .............................................................................................. Yes, you’ll find that because you’ve noticed a quality or gift in someone else, you have it too in some area of your life. Be curious and find it. This is a super question to ask children as well. There’s an exercise in my book Understanding children and teens: a practical guide for parents, teachers and coaches, called the Superhero exercise. It asks children to draw themselves as a superhero and there’s a list of great questions to ask them, all designed to elicit, in an indirect way, the skills and gifts they themselves have. But it works both ways. Those things you don’t like in others might be your own ‘shadow’. How do you have those traits?
Think about something one of your children did recently that annoyed you. Who was it and what did they do? .............................................................................................. In what way did it annoy you? .............................................................................................. And in what way do you do something similar? .............................................................................................. And when you do that, what is your positive intention? .............................................................................................. Could this also be theirs?
5. The map is not the territory
This is so important when we think of communication between parents and children.
Let’s face it, it was a while ago when we were children and a lot has changed, their world is quite different from ours and as you’ve just been learning, each of us processes our world completely differently. For a start, their world is a whole lot smaller. For them, family and close friends, their teacher and carers are their world. Home and school are the only places that are important. So any changes within this territory of theirs will have a huge impact, especially if they are children who ‘match’ and look for things to stay the same and seek familiarity.
When we judge their responses from our map of the world, we will not understand them. We need to step with curiosity into their world and ask them how it is for them rather than guess.
Questions like, “What’s it like when...?” or “What do you think when...?” or “What would you like to have happen?” are all what we call ‘clean questions’ which come with no assumptions or judgements. Even cleaner questions would be “Tell me more” or “Can you explain?”
This is about perceptions and it will help children become more emotionally intelligent when you encourage them to also see things from your point of view. When you do this, remember to avoid mindreading, telling them what you think they meant. Use a cleaner version instead, such as, “It sounds to me as if...” or “I’m feeling a bit... Is that what you intended?” Or I sometimes use this one, “Do you want to have another go at saying that as it sounded a bit... to me”. Children don’t have our verbal skills and sometimes come out with things they don’t mean to, or use words thoughtlessly or incorrectly, so give them a chance to repeat what they said in a way that you understand.
You cannot not communicate. Sometimes we feel hurt by what our children seem to be saying without checking out whether that was what they meant. We communicate with our face, our body, our eyes, everything. Our voice, tone, pitch, volume, even our silences, all communicate. I sometimes think less is more with children. When we are talking, we aren’t listening.
6. We already have all the resources we need
Amazingly, I’ve found this to be true! We already know how to copy others. We’ve learnt this from birth. We used to watch our mother and father around the house, listen to how they talk to each other, watch their facial expressions, how they did things like eat, and this is how we learnt to walk to talk and to understand what was going on, how to behave and how to respond.
Later, at nursery school and at primary school we learnt how to learn, we learnt how to communicate using words and actions, and we learnt how actions had consequences.
Through copying, through learning, reading, listening to those around us and those we see on television, in YouTube videos, podcasts we listen to, books we read, we gain resources that we can use in our world. I find parents often forget that the skills they use at work, and the skills they use in their sports or fitness or hobbies are all skills and resources that they can use as a parent. 7. The person with the most flexibility controls the system
Imagine if you only had two piano keys or two keys on your computer keyboard, ‘yes’ and ‘no’, ‘this’ or ‘that’. You’d have a very boring tune or email. The more options you have, the more opportunities there are to achieve what you want. There are so many different ways to communicate, and the best way is to match the pattern of the person you’re speaking to so that they have the best chance to understand what you are saying.
Think about how you can say or do something differently, consider other options and invite your child to work out how they could do something differently or think about something differently. When we assume there is always a solution to every problem, we can then focus on finding that solution and take responsibility for it ourselves rather than expecting others to resolve it.
8. The mind and body are one
How we think and feel affects our body. If we feel sad or fed up, our body sags and almost folds in on itself. When we feel happy, our body opens up and we look up, we smile and face the world. Did you know that we can also use our body to alter our state of mind?
Here are some fun exercises for you. Before you do each one, score your state of mind on a scale of 0-10 with 10 being really happy and zero being really sad. Then score yourself again afterwards. What was the difference?
– Run up and down the stairs a few times
– Run round the garden a few times
– Do a really huge belly laugh as you think of something funny you’ve seen
– Deep breathe in for 6 and out for 6 three times
– Do a super hero power pose
The fastest way to change your state is to change your breathing as the breath travels throughout the body, moving the energy around and creating ‘flow’.