I am a parent. I’ve spent 13 years teaching school, which is also a form of parenting. I also have parents and some of my best friends are parents. When I was pregnant with my first daughter I read and studied every book in the library and most of those in the book stores on parenting. The qualifications to be a parent are pretty minimal, yet the impact of a job well done is immeasurably huge and profound. The one thing that I can definitively say that I have learned about parenting is that it is an on-the-job-training position. Essentially, no one actually doing the job knows what they are doing. We all learn as we go.
In short, the parents most likely to do the job right are the ones eager, anxious and even desperate to do their best while confident that they will fail and fall short of that mark. I might also add that anyone who thinks they know how to parent is probably doing a poor job at best, or providing job security for therapists, social workers, and prison guards at worst. So if you are a parent and are presently feeling fretful, worried, or uneasy, give yourself a pat on the back! You’re doing everything just right!
Living In Their Subconscious
Of everything I read and studied on parenting I would say the most helpful information came from my studies of hypnosis and understanding the subconscious/unconscious mind*. This is primarily because children live in a hypnotic trance until about the age of 6 or 7 years (and only leave this trance-like state gradually). You see, the barrier between the conscious and unconscious mind does not form until about that age. Up until then you can think of your kids as being in a walking trance and everything you say literally or symbolically is getting buried deep in their unconscious to haunt them for the rest of their lives. (If you weren’t a worried and fretful parent before, that information should make you one now. So, go ahead and give yourself a pat. You’re doing it right now!)
This is actually a good thing because that mental structure allows kids to absorb massive amounts of information at amazing rates. Then most of that learning becomes unconscious “software” that runs automatically for the rest of their lives. For example, kids have to learn all the norms of their particular culture and then never think about it but automatically behave accordingly. They learn the structure and subtleties of their home language(s) and then it becomes easy. If you’ve ever tried to learn a second or third language in high school (or older) you don’t need me to tell you how hard it can be. But mere babies do all that and make it look easy!
They learn to walk, talk, behave, and clean. Kids are not born knowing what a “clean” room or house looks like. They have to see the example many times to know what is “clean” and what is “dirty” in the adult eyes. Just think, there are kids born every day in places where they have dirt floors. How could that kid know when the floor is clean? That’s right. We need to show them over and over till its hard wired into their minds. (By my reckoning, and that of my friends with teen kids this happens somewhere in the 30’s)
That same mechanism for learning rapidly and well can be a bad thing if say, a person learns as a kid to clean his plate. That same person becomes an adult and sits down to restaurant meals that have portions 4x bigger than what an adult needs – but that plate still gets cleaned. (And that backside get’s bigger!) That mechanism take a tragic turn when a kid is raised by parents who inflict violence on him when the parent is stressed out instead of venting his anger appropriately. Then violence against others, rather than self control can become a way of life for even the best intentioned adult.
What is it about “No” that you don’t understand?
To use this information about kids you need to understand a bit about how the unconscious responds. One of the most important things to know is that the unconscious does not register the word “no” or “don’t” or “not”. Its as if all negatives and negators are like the null set. You can see this fact at work when you tell a toddler “Don’t touch the glass vase!” Only his brain hears, “Touch the glass vase!” and he goes to it like a magnet. He’s not trying to be difficult. His brain just doesn’t hear what you’re saying.
Say what you mean, mean what you say
To get the action you want from kids you need to change the words you use. You need to say exactly what action you want and stop wasting time telling them what you don’t want. That’s not an easy change for for adults to make. It is a whole lot easier to change your words than to change a child’s behavior with words he cannot understand, though! Here’s a few examples: Instead of saying, “Don’t run in the halls!” try, “Walk quietly in the halls.” Instead of “No fighting!” try, “Use you’re words to negotiate.”
Its especially difficult to weed out common but nonsensical “parent-isms like, “How many times have I told you..blah blah blah.” Because, what are you trying to say? You’re asking a kid to count up the number of times you’ve made a statement that is inaudible to his brain. You know the definition of insanity, right? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Come on, my friend, let’s step out of the “coo-coo parent” role for a minute. I know its fun. I know its a role you enjoyed seeing the parent figures in your life occupy. And its comfortable and familiar because they said that same thing countless times, right? Right? But unless you really ARE crazy, why would you keep saying something that doesn’t get results?
That was a rhetorical question; don’t answer it. There is no good reason. You were simply conditioned to do it. So let’s now resolve to avoid repeating ANYTHING that didn’t produce results the first time it was said. They cannot hear you, that’s why. If our statements to kids don’t get results lets rephrase the statement. Let’s make sure the statement has no null sets, no negatives to confuse the developing brain. Let’s frame a clear concise statement that directs that brain to action!
(Ever wonder why toddlers get hold of the word “NO!” and won’t let it go? Its because its a hilarious joke! Its totally ironic. A word that means absolutely nothing, and yet rarely fails to get a reaction from adults. NO!” You jump, startled! “NO!” “Don’t you say that to me!””NO!” A furrowed brow. “NO!” “Stop that right now!” <Another hilarious word! Stop> “NO!” And a merry chase begins.)
I’m laughing and you’re not. Oh, I see, I’ve confused you by telling you too much about what NOT to do without giving you clear directed statements about the proper action to take. I’m going to teach by example, that’s always more effective anyway. So, on the left are some common but confusing “parent-isms” on the right are examples of clear, action-getting statements that capture the average parent’s real meaning.
“Stop screaming!” = Play quietly.
“Don’t play ball in the house!” = Play ball outside.
“What did I say?”= I need you to obey me.
“Did you break this lamp?” = I think you broke this lamp.
“Don’t jump on the bed; you’ll fall off and break your neck.” = I’m afraid you’ll get hurt doing that. Jump rope instead.
“You’ll put your eye out with that thing!” = That’s too dangerous to play with. Find something blunt.
You’ll put your eye out!
“What are you doing?!” = Please don’t do that. Do this…
“What do you think you’re doing?!” = Please don’t do that. Do this…
“Stop all that racket!” = Play quietly
“I’m not made of money!” = We’ll have to save up for that. How much money do you have?
“I am going to kill you!” = That makes me really angry.
“Don’t walk on the floor I just mopped it.” = Walk on the ceiling.
There, you get the idea now. Say what you mean. The best test of whether you have said it right is if you get the action you wanted. Its not easy. Its especially difficult in the adult world where direct questions and commands are often seen as rude. But we’re talking to children here. With good training, a few more years and a bit of luck they will be just as convoluted, passive-aggressive and confusing as we are. So there’s that to look forward to!
baby proof nice things
Baby elephant Training
Now, let’s get back to that glass vase. How are you ever going to keep your nice things from breaking if you can’t tell your kid NOT to touch it? The answer is what I like to call “Baby Elephant training”. In India when they domesticate baby elephants, they begin by attaching one of its legs to a tent stake with a rope. The baby elephant tries and tries to pull the stake out and run but it cannot. Eventually the little elephant learns that stakes cannot be pulled out of the ground. Then when the elephant is full grown and several tons of muscle and force it no longer tries to pull the stake out. It knows that the stake will not come out!
After much experimentation, I recommend the “Baby Elephant” method of child rearing. Let’s face it, you have a small window of opportunity during which you are stronger, faster, and more clever than your child. Very small. I say take advantage of that window and the rest of your 17-30 years of parenting will be much easier.
While your child is very small and mostly non-ambulatory tell her, “Don’t touch!” a few times. Immediately after the words leave your mouth remove the object completely from the child’s reach. Put that glass vase high up on a shelf in the back of the closet. If you do that a few times with the baby she will learn that when YOU say mysterious meaningless words it does mean something! Everything YOU tell her always sticks!
I recommend taking the baby or toddler to the home of a friend or relative who won’t bother to “baby-proof” her house when you say you are coming. That way you will have lots and lots of opportunities to repeat your “magic words” and reproduce the instant disappearance of the forbidden object. You will also decrease your personal loss when you occasionally miss an opportunity to reinforce the lesson!
If you can practice this consistently, say, once a week for the first 6-36 months of life (or until your run out of friends, relatives, and unsuspecting strangers willing to have you over) you will have produced a child who believes you are a powerful magician who can make things happen with just a few words of magical meaningless mumbo-jumbo. From then on teachers, friends (the new ones you make after your kids 3rd birthday), and random strangers will be amazed that such an obedient child was born to such a lazy do-nothing parent as you. More importantly, your child will love, honor and adore you because you will never have to spank, shame, or scold the child for misbehaving. You will simply say your magic words. Right up until the child enters high school.
Never argue with a Kid
Which brings me to the the final piece of really useful parenting advice from hypnotherapy: never argue with a kid. In fact, its a good idea never to argue with anyone. This is because taking one side of an argument compels any listener to take an opposing view, and to defend it! Not only that but most people know that starting an argument is an excellent way to keep from getting work done and it has the added advantage of keeping your opponent from working either! Try it with a spouse who is threatening divorce. Some people I know have stayed married for years just to avoid letting their spouse have the last word.
No one EVER wins an argument
So if you let yourself get drawn into an argument with your kid – the kid has ALREADY won! That’s right! Parenting is a game you play with your kids, but it is a game you must win for the sake of the kid’s happiness. They want their parents to be winners! This is a real challenge because no one can can argue as well as a kid. Do not argue with any child. You will lose and the kid will hate you for being a loser.
There are several hypnosis techniques to keep arguments from happening. They are grouped under a heading I call “slight of mouth”. Its like slight of hand only you do it with words. Done right, slight of mouth allows you to say inflammatory things without being opposed. One type of “slight of mouth” is the switch back. Let’s say you believe in socialized medicine. You start in one direction, “Now I certainly don’t agree with Obamacare, “ Then end up in the other direction, “But don’t they have a great health care system in the UK?” No one argues with you because they hardly know what you’ve said.
Another “slight of mouth” technique is to put words in your opponent’s mouth. Sometimes I use this when I want my guests to leave. I say to my co-host, “Honey, these good people need their sleep. Don’t start another long story now.” Or if I’m uncomfortable asking for money I might say, “Oh, goodness! I haven’t given you the chance to pay me, have I?” Or when cutting a conversation short I avoid leaving my friend feeling rushed or rejected by saying, “Well, I better let you go. I know how busy you are.”
One other technique is to “close off the path to “no”. Salesmen are great at this. Rather than ask a question to which “no” is the obvious answer a good salesman will ask, “Would you like me to bag that or wrap it for you?” or “Will you be using your Visa or our convenient payment plan?” You can modify this for your home use by asking, “Would you prefer green beans or broccoli with your supper?” “Would you like to clean the toilets or the sinks?” “Do you want me to help you with your homework now or would you rather I just let you do it?” It’s important that kids have choices so they feel a sense of control over their own lives and also get practice making good decisions for themselves.
Here are a few other handy uses of slight of mouth for kids:
1.“I know you want your hair cut in one of the new styles, but honestly I like the natural look you have.” (a.k.a.: Get a haircut)
2. “I think teens should devote their summers to enrichment classes. This idea of working and having spending money is just too much freedom for a kid.” (a.k.a. Get a job)
3. “Really? Well, I’d better meet your friends’ parents then and find out what they know that I don’t.” (In response to “All my friends parents said ‘Yes’.”)
4. “How’s that working out for you?” (In response to any declaration of personal policy from not doing homework to staying up on a school night to dating a jerk.)
5. “Oh, wonderful! I’ve always wanted to have a live-in maid and cook. I’m sure if I pay the taxes on your room, board, and laundry privileges that will be equal to minimum wage.” (In response to a kid who decides he’s not going to college or moving out and getting a job.)
6. A great way to get your kid to move away to a boarding college is to suggest. “If you enroll in a local college you can live at home and save us money on room and board!” another is to lovingly pet his hair and say, “Oh, I hope you will never move away from home, I would miss your company so!”
Moving on is good for kids
Avoiding Arguments Kids Start
Of course kids are excellent at starting arguments without you. You can still avoid the argument and win if your skills of empathy are sharp. The kid says, “I hate going to family functions!” and you respond, “Oh, I know just how you feel. Here’s your coat.” Kid says, “My teacher is stupid, that’s why she failed me.” You say, “Boy, that must be frustrating. Let’s see if I can help.” Kid says, “I hate you!” you say, “You have that right. But since we’re living in the same house we may as well get along.”
One of my favorite ways to avoid argument is to act frustrated and say, “Ok, ok, you’re right and I’m wrong!” No one can argue with that, especially when its true. When all else fails I engage something I call “Fighting with my Back”. I always do my best fighting with my back. I give myself a time out.
Whoever invented the “time out” was brilliant! Only somehow we thought the practice was to apply this privilege to naughty kids. The best use of the “time out” is to allow a frazzled parent a little break to recover his/her sanity. After all, how could you ever get a kid to sit quietly in a corner if you cannot get him to behave in the first place? Whereas the parent will willingly and gratefully take a few moments break.
So as soon as your children are old enough to be left on their own for 1-5 minutes (experts recommend using the number of minutes corresponding to the child’s age) you should begin using the “time out” discipline technique. Whenever you are nearing a breaking point and before you have to raise your voice, simply declare, “That’s enough! Mommy needs a time out. I’m going to my room for 2 full minutes and no one is to bother me till I come out.” And then off you go immediately. Lie down, close your eyes, play soft music, and imagine a happy place far, far away.
As your children get older you can use this technique to get 5-10 minutes of precious reprieve. Then you can text or email a friend (one who will empathize when you tell her how awful your 5-10year old kids are), thumb through a magazine, jog around the block, or nibble on your secret child-proof stash of chocolate. This is your time, make the most of it.
The “time out” works wonders as a discipline technique primarily because your children will miss your attention and want you back. See, children are born pre-programed to love and prefer their parent’s attention. Even the poor children of horrible abusive parents desperately want their parents’ love and attention. Bad children are “bad” precisely because negative attention from parents is better than no attention at all. So when you disengage and take your attention away, your children will feel punished. (So long as you are not negligent on a regular basis) They will reflect on their own behavior and learn new ways to act that do not drive you away.
Of course, Time Out also works because you, the parent get to de-stress and regain control of yourself. In any event, once you know how to invoke the Time Out, your children need never win again. As soon as you find yourself being drawn into an argument and your slight-of-mouth techniques are not distracting your child from his goal, you can simply declare, “Look, I’ve had enough of this.” You walk away and keep to yourself until you’ve thought of new creative ways to keep from arguing with a kid. I find these techniques work wonders with child like adults as well!
*Unconscious vs Subconscious – though I am using them almost interchangably here, there is a difference between the SUBconscious and the UNconscious mind. The subconscious is that part of the mind works like auto-pilot doing things of which you are only vaguely aware. When we are first learning a complex opperation like driving a car, brushing our teeth, showering or talking we do it consciously. But soon it becomes subconscious and automatic. Then we are able to listen to the radio, talk on the phone, and eat a sandwich while still operating heavy machinery like an automobile. We are able to shower, shave, brush and even dress in the mornings all before having our coffee. These complex operations have become subconscious. They only become conscious again when something goes wrong, like a shaving cut or another car merging suddenly into your lane.
Other things are run by the unconscious mind. These are things that we do without even knowing how to do them. Things like breathing, digesting our food, sneezing or blinking the eyes are under unconscious control. Our conscious mind can affect these processes but they are run and controlled by the unconscious. They can continue even when the conscious mind is asleep or deep in a coma. The important thing to remember is that whether conscious, subconscious or unconscious it is all one mind and it is yours. Some things just work better when we don’t have to think so much about them.