Before I became an NLP mindset coach, I used to be a teacher. So even though I'm not a parent myself, a lot of parents either come to me as clients or refer their children for educational support or assistance with anxiety and boosting confidence.
I've come to wonder if these parents think that somehow teachers will know something they don't about bringing up kids. The truth is we are all making it up as we go along, as did those who came before us.
And as far as training to be a high school teacher goes, we had two 7 week stints in the classroom and 3 five week modules all inside a year. That was it! An academic degree. And 7 weeks in the deep end before our first job! I still remember my first placement seeing a circle of 20 boys at lunchtime shouting "fight, fight, fight" and freezing for a moment - what were we supposed to do?
Apart from a few gold nuggets I learnt from other teachers who had figured some things out, I found I fell back on the NLP mindset and mindskill training I had done years earlier along with some of the exceptional communication skills training provided by my trainer, Dr Richard Bolstad. More about him in a moment.
In the end that's why I left teaching - I could see I needed to offer NLP skills to others because not enough NLP coaches were in practice. And both teachers, students and school need these skills in today's world.
And so, in my humble opinion, do parents. And couples. It's what our parents and their parents never had. And as a coach, most of my work is helping clients fix up some of that well intentioned, but unhelpful programming received in childhood.
A few months ago I offered a short presentation for some members of my local business network group, most of whom are parents, and so, even though I had said a lot of stuff about communication before, this time I called "Empowering Parents" and suddenly everyone was excited and leaning forward in their seat.
They've been asking me for a while to write it up and send the references. So here are some of the points I covered.
In this book The Rapport Based Family, Dr Richard Bolstad points out a major cause of depression in children, according to one study, was over-helpful parenting:
In a long term study of 1000 elementary school children, Dr Eva Pomerantz of the University of Illinois (2001) found dramatic evidence of the harmful effects of parental guilt. Her research showed that children were more prone to psychological disturbances and to depression in particular when their parents felt more responsible for the children’s feelings. Pomerantz used the term “intrusive support” to refer to parents monitoring and helping children deal with emotional challenges when the children have not asked for such help. This is the kind of support parents use more when they feel responsible for their children’s happiness. Put simply, when parents feel guilty about their children’s unhappiness, they interfere more and things get progressively worse. The more the parents used intrusive support, the less competent their children came to feel, and the less happy they became. Parents who did a lot of intrusive support actually ended up controlling what their children could say about their challenges, denying their children’s feelings and deepening any feelings of inadequacy that were there."
This passage occurs in the chapter on Reflective Listening. Also known as active listening, or paraphrasing, it's a deceptively simple skill that, because of the way we are bought up, its really hard to do well unless it's taught well: by that I mean modelled and demonstrated with opportunity to practise until it "clicks" into place.
Unfortunately it's a skill often taught badly (parroting peoples words instead of paraphrasing) and if it's used at the wrong time it can come across as manipulative or fake. And yet, when used well, and appropriately, it can be transformative.
This is because it allows us to show a person who is upset that we care WHILST also not getting stuck in the trap of trying to solve their problem for them.
Whilst for children, solving their problems can manifest as depression, teenagers on the other hand might be more likely to respond to our advice or solution by shouting an insult and slamming the door behind them as they stomp off!
It's very irritating and worrying for a parent or teacher when this happens because our advice is very well reasoned and logical and all these emotional reactions could result in some very poor decision making! Right?
Well, this is where we need to decide whether it's more important to be right, at the expense of the relationship, or to listen, without opinion or judgement, so that a loving space is created for your special human being to voice their concerns, however illogical or irrational, not so you can hear them, but so THEY can hear themselves.
As much as it might trigger fear, or worry, or concern in a parent or teacher, this young human needs to learn that the difficult emotions they are having right now are a NORMAL part of human experience. They are just sensations. If accepted they will bloom, flower and pass and as the fear subsides, in the presence of your loving ears, the pulse rate will lessen.
As that happens the fight flight freeze part of the brain (amygdala) will switch off allowing the logical parts of the brain to light up again. Without that flood of emotion, this young person can start to come to terms with their own mental and emotional landscape and how that correlates to the world around them.
Imagine for a moment that it's twenty years ago and you don't have GPS maps on your smart phone. You arrive in London and pick up a friend's car you arranged to borrow. But there's not map of London in the car. You remember you left one at home on the table and forgot to pack it.
So you ring me, your flatmate, and ask for directions. But it's only part way into the conversation we realise that I did not hear that you are in London, In fact I had no idea you were going there. So I am reading a map of New York and giving you instructions that don't make sense.
Now imagine that instead of realising my mistake and backing off, I tell you that my map of New York is a great map - the best map ;-) - and you should use it anyway because it's worked for me lots of times and it's gotten me where I need to go, so if you'd only be quiet and listen and take my advice, you will get where you need to go?
Silly right? You might tell me to get lost and hang up. But if this has happened many times before, and I had punished you for resisting or complaining that my advice was no good, you might just sit silently and hopelessly in your car whilst you let all my instructions wash over unable to see how any of them relate to the landmarks of London you see through your window.
As well intentioned as human beings are, when we find a map that works for us in life, we want everyone else to have that map too - because we want them to have the ease and flow and empowerment that we feel. We think we all live in the same world, but what neuroscience is showing us, is that our world is constructed by our brains.
Not only that, but our mental landscape is affected by our core values, past trauma, our unique hopes, dreams and wishes. It's like looking at a yellow wall with blue sunglasses - that will seem to be a green wall. And yet to you it might seem orange, with your red sunglasses on.
In our heads, we know, in theory, that people have filters. Except, in an argument or upset, we can get frustrated. So we forget they have filters and just want that person to understand what we understand so that we can all return to a state of emotional comfort.
And here lies the key. Can you, for a time, simply accept the discomfort of your child's emotions? Can you nod, acknowledge that what they are sharing with you seems hard or difficult, and just ask them "What happened" or "Tell me more about that honey"? Can you invite them to share with you until the emotion passes and they feel their emotions, and therefore they as a person, are acceptable?
Or will you try and cheer them up, or reassure or advise them so that you feel more comfortable? And teach them, in so doing, that it's not okay for them to share difficult emotions with you, it's not okay to be vulnerable, their emotions are not okay, they are not okay, you'd prefer to see their smile, their mask, than actually see them?
When a child learns that those masks are more important to you than their messy, awkward emotions, they shut down a part of themselves and they hide who they really are in order to please you, get your approval, your smile, your love.
They learn to be fake. And they take that fakeness into their romantic relationships and they choose a fake career to please you and they dishonour themselves.
In his Netflix documentary, I am not your guru, Anthony Robbins the renowned NLP Life Coach asks a woman "Whose love did you crave the most in childhood"?
I recently heard another coach say they had a client burst into tears. For twenty years they had pursued a professional career to please their father. And they hated every day of it.
Our parents may have, with the best will in the world, stuffed up our programming in their strong desire for us to "cheer up" and be happy. What message did you get in childhood?
Big boys don't cry?
Don't be a poof?
Girls are meant to be "sugar and spice and all things nice"?
The devil makes work for idle hands?
It can be different for each person. Maybe you didn't spend your life trying to please a parent, perhaps because you couldn't. Maybe they never gave you their approval? So perhaps you spent your life deliberately trying to piss them off? Doing everything that was the opposite of their approval? Perhaps you became the black sheep?
It's no one's fault. Humans are designed to seek love and approval and acceptance. To not get it is to experience deep unconscious fear that perhaps goes back to our days in the caves - the fear of the tribe shaming or abandoning us for breaking a rule.
But if happiness interests you, as I know it does, there are ways to scroll back the centuries of conditioning, of negative messages, of crushed dreams. We can heal those emotional wounds and give voice to our real dreams.
This is why, if your child has anxiety, I ask to see you first. To help them, I need to help you get comfortable with their discomfort. They might choose not to change, so can we find a way to be resilient with the consequences, for you, of their choices?
If you are feeling guilty or worried about them, you will be itching to cheer them up and reassure them so you feel more comfortable. And if you scratch that itch, they'll give you the mask you ask for and sacrifice their authentic self.
So what, you may ask, can we do to roll back all this programming?
1. Get a copy of The Rapport Based Family, by Richard Bolstad - It's available on Amazon - see links at bottom of article
2. See me for a free half hour appointment. In that time we can work out whether (a) you have emotions to clear so you can be comfortable in their discomfort
(b) I can share some resources and tools so you can coach your child through a challenge (that often works better, if you are up for it, than them seeing me)
(c) whether it's more appropriate your child has a coaching session to make a change - but they need to be onboard with this, and we need to know first whether we are trying to solve a problem for you, or a problem for them. If it's for you, then see (a) above :-)
3. Consider learning more about reflective listening and rapport-filled communication by attending a Transforming Communication Course. In Whangarei, New Zealand I run several a year and so does another coach, Barbara Jacques. If you can't find someone local, get a copy of the Transforming Communication book, manual and dvds off Richard Bolstad's website Transformations NLP (see links at bottom of article).
Although this course is 27 hours, it will transform your relationships not only as a parent, but as a spouse, ex-spouse, colleague, friend, mentor, family member - in all areas of your life. If you are an employer, I'd say definitely consider doing this course!
4. Attend one of my FREE 90 minute POSITIVE RELATIONSHIP TOOLS seminars - click here for the facebook link