When you look back on your childhood, I imagine one thing that comes to mind are particular phrases or saying you heard your parents say on a regular basis. These are most likely the same things they heard from their own parents that have unconsciously become a part of who they are. And chances are, love it or hate it, that you’re also repeating some of the same expressions to your children.
According to Steve Biddulph, the author of “The Secret to Happy Children“, parents may be unknowingly “hypnotizing” their children. He refers to this type of programming as a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy because hearing a particular suggestion over and over makes children believe it enough to make it a reality.
When parents say negative things about their child’s character like, you’re hopeless, you’re so lazy, you’ll never amount to anything, you can’t do that… they’re diluting their child’s belief in themselves. These type of putdowns are like tiny seeds that accumulate in the mind and when consistently watered, will eventually bloom into a pessimistic outlook on themselves and life.
Steve explains that “whenever we use certain patterns of speech, we reach into the unconscious minds of our children and program them, even though we have no such intention.”
The belief that to be hypnotized, a person had to be in an altered state of mind or trance, is old hat.
These days it’s understood that the mind can be programmed whilst a person is in a normal waking state without them being aware of it happening. It’s called accidental hypnosis because without even realizing it, parents are implanting messages in their child’s mind that can stay with them for a lifetime.
If you’re sighing right now in frustration or disappointment in yourself, you won’t be alone. Accidental hypnosis is a part of everyday life, and most of us do it!
Am I Guilty of Negative Programming?
Parents have a far greater influence on their children than they realize. Most feel they do the best they can when taking their particular set of circumstances into account, but the truth is that most of us should probably review our parenting style from time to time.
Here’s an example of how we’re unconsciously hypnotizing our kids:
Children become an easy target when we’re tired and cranky. When they seemingly delight in annoying us or worse still, ignoring us, instead of recognizing they have a need of some sort, our natural reaction can be to lash out with angry or insulting words to try to make them stop. The message we’re sending when we react that way is that we’re not understanding their needs and aren’t interested in helping them. But let’s face it when we’ve had a long day and all we want to do is sit down and relax, the last thing on our mind is trying to second guess what’s making our kids misbehave because sometimes it’s really not that obvious.
The point is if we retaliate often enough with phrases like you’re so annoying, you’re such a pest, just leave me alone… we’re denting their confidence and self-belief.
Think of the number of times you’ve been at the playground and your child decides to climb a tree or is scrambling to the top of the tallest climbing tower. Do you encourage them by saying they can do it, or do you stand beneath them with your arms stretched out yelling at them to come down before they fall and hurt themselves? If they hear it enough, you can’t do that, you’ll hurt yourself, you’re too little… then they’re going to start to believe it.
Isn’t it frightening to think that we could be unwittingly “programming” our children into believing they’re not good enough or aren’t able to do things? AND in the process planting the seed that we don’t support them the way they thought we would. Steve’s book makes some eye-opening points about the innocent things that I’m sure most of us do, but luckily also offers a great deal of hope!
Restoring the Peace
At this point, I’m hearing some of you complain that you wouldn’t speak negatively to your kids if they didn’t push your buttons. So how do you stop them doing that?
I wrote earlier about kids playing up because they have a need, so identifying and meeting that need (or needs) is key to creating a more peaceful relationship with our children.
- Quality Time
I’m sure you’ve heard this countless times, but it’s true! Kids want parents to spend time with them, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Some quality time each day reinforces our love and gives them an opportunity to share what’s on their mind. This simple gesture is so important in keeping the connection strong and showing that we care enough to reserve some special time just for them.
While they’re little, bedtime can be a wonderful opportunity for regular snuggle time. Apart from the obvious benefits of reading to kids, it can be a very special time that is treasured by everyone. Touching is particularly important in forming connections between human, so grab a good book and jump under the covers!
As they get older, it can become more difficult to find ways to connect, but even simple things like taking them out for morning tea, playing (or at least trying) their favourite sport with them or supporting them at important events. Little things like attending their weekly basketball game or dance lesson all mean a lot.
- Stop Criticizing
Some people don’t even realize they’re doing it, perhaps because it’s what they grew up themselves, but constantly criticizing and scolding children has a very negative effect on their self-esteem. Instead, find ways to compliment the good things they do to encourage better behaviour and positive self-belief.
- Have Rules and Be Consistent
Not having clear boundaries can be confusing for a child. Being clear about our rules and sticking to them is essential. Our kids should know what the rules are and what happens if they’re not followed.
Don’t confuse kids by allowing them to do something one day, but not the next. If the rule is not to come into the house with their shoes on, then that rule applies every day and to everyone. Parents need to say what they mean in a very clear way and stick to it.
If we want our kids to have a shower, don’t suggest they do so, “Why don’t you go have a shower?”, instead, say “Go have a shower now please.” Yes, it may sound like a command, but it’s clear and there’s no way of arguing that they didn’t know when we meant for them to do it. And don’t repeat yourself. Be present in the moment to make sure they follow through the first time it’s said.
- Model It
Children are always watching. It’s how they learn and parents are their greatest role models, so it’s important to take a look at our own behaviour. What are the things we’re doing that our kids could be picking up on? If we swear in front of our kids, then we can hardly tell them off if they do it too. If we want them to be kind, caring and loving, we have to show them how.
- Pick Your Battles
Are we saying no just for the sake of it? When we’re tired and irritated, we’re more likely to say no because it’s easier than having to think about what has to happen if we say yes. Often, there’s really no logical reason for saying no which consequently causes unnecessary conflict, so think before we blurt out the no word, it could actually end up being easier in the long run.
The other thing to remember is there are a mountain of things we can nag our kids about, but if we pick on every little thing, we’re likely to cause a lot of tension and angry feelings which could damage our relationship. We need to be careful about the things we point out and try to catch ourselves if we’re nagging. Let the little things go and keep the peace.
- Nurture Yourself
One of the biggest complaints from parents is not having enough time. Everyone’s busy working, doing housework and looking after kids, so time out for us, often takes a back seat. The problem is that neglecting ourselves means allowing ourselves to become tired and more stressed which means we’re less tolerant and less likely to have the energy to connect with our kids in a meaningful way. We’ve all heard it before, but it can’t be said enough… it’s time for some self-care!
Nurturing Self Belief
- Positive Messages
Half the battle for anyone to succeed is believing they can and it can be just as important to have others who encourage and support. If our children say “I can’t”, it’s our job to encourage them by saying that we believe that they can and will be there to help them if they need us.
Affirmations can be a wonderful way to empower kids with an “I can” attitude. Put some positive notes in their lunchbox that affirm that they’re a good person and are capable of achieving their dreams. There are some wonderful affirmation cards for kids that can be used daily to nurture self-esteem.
- Believe In and Encourage Them
It’s so much easier to believe in yourself if someone else believes in you too. Children require encouragement so they know they’re doing the right thing and are capable of being more than they realize. Acknowledge their successes no matter how small to give them the confidence to try harder. If the outcome isn’t what they were hoping for, praise them for doing their best and giving it a go, and let them know that no matter what, we’ll always be there for and love them.
- Encourage Them To Dream
Everyone should have a dream to follow and even children dream of things they want to achieve in the future. Dreaming can be the start of wonderful new plans. People have been known to manifest their dreams simply by seeing them in their mind’s eye and believing strongly enough that it will happen.
- Make Them Your Priority
We can boost our child’s self-esteem by making them feel important. One way is to make them our priority by being present at significant events and not being late.
- Let Them Help
Letting our child’s contribute and help shows them that we have faith in them and gives them a sense of responsibility. Avoid telling them what do to unless they ask.
Giving our kids our undivided attention is important regardless of how insignificant their chatter may seem. If they want to talk, show them that we’re there for them and that they’re worthy of our time by turning off the TV or put the phone down. Make eye contact and be understanding about whatever it is they want to get off their chest.
- Trust Them
Until our child gives us a reason not to, we should show them we trust and respect them to encourage them to make good choices.
- Have Conversations
Mealtimes are one of the best opportunities we have to connect the members of our family through conversation. The car is also great for chatting with kids and is often where they’ll open up as it feels like a safe place where no-one else will hear.
- Be Understanding
Though their complaint may seem trivial, it can be a big deal for kids. Be understanding and don’t dismiss their worries. Support them as much as possible, but allow them to make their own choices. Check in with them later to see how they’re dealing with the situation.
- Show Them You’re Proud and Love Them
Don’t be too quick to point out the negatives, when there are far more positives to reinforce. Children grow from and remember the positive things we say. We have to make sure they know we’re proud of them for trying something new and doing their best. And most of all, tell and show them we love them every single day.
- Let Them Overhead You
A great way to foster confidence is to allow kids to overhear us singing their praises to someone else. This is where the self-fulfilling prophecy comes in again, but this time in a positive way.
How do you foster self-belief in your kids? We’d love you to share below.
Author: Lisa Currie, Ripple Kindness Project
Lisa is the founder of Ripple Kindness Project, a community program and school curriculum that aims to improve social, emotional and mental health, and reduce bullying by teaching and inspiring kindness. The ongoing, whole school primary curriculum, teaches children about their emotions and the impact their words and actions have on others. It provides opportunities for children to be part of kindness activities, allowing them to experience the feel good emotions kindness produces.