If you shout, “You’re always breaking things,” you’re really saying you expect Eric to keep breaking things. The message that sticks in his mind is that he always breaks things. This message becomes a belief that affirms his destructive behavior. And, surprise surprise, that behavior continues.
Replay that scene and, this time, ask yourself, “What would be a more loving, conscientious way to respond?” In my book Nurture Your Child’s Gift (Beyond Words Publishing), I suggest saying this: “Eric, it’s just not like you to break your brother’s truck…or anyone else’s toys. What’s up?”
What happens? Your inherent message to Eric has just changed. A healthier belief goes into Eric’s mind: that he doesn’t usually act this way. Instead of reinforcing destructive actions, you have communicated that breaking the truck was unusual behavior. Then you invite discussion by saying, “What’s up?” Eric gets to explain what he is thinking to a supportive listener – you. With this approach, Eric’s future behavior will more likely conform to the belief you’ve just reinforced – that this isn’t normal for him. When you send him this positive message, he doesn’t see himself as “destructive” and will be less likely to act that way.
Beliefs Stick in the Subconscious
For everyone, a belief “sticks” in the subconscious like a burr sticks to a sock.
Because your children’s beliefs determine how they react, tapping into their existing beliefs and helping them create new ones gives you power as a parent.
Chances are you replay tapes of your own parents’ messages – a message like “I’m not a good singer,” for example. Instead of accepting that message as true, you can erase that old data and put in new message, such as: “I love to sing and am learning to sing better all time.” In the same way, you can coach your children to erase destructive beliefs about themselves and put esteem-building messages into their minds.
Here’s an example of how Jessica’s father delivered esteem-building messages to his daughter while connecting her beliefs with her physical complaints.
Seven-year-old Jessica came home from her first day of attending second grade with a stomachache. The ache lasted well into the next day, causing her to miss school. Jessica had convinced herself she didn’t feel well, despite her doctor’s opinion that she seemed fine. So early the following morning, Jessica’s father invited her to go out to breakfast with him. The father knew Jessica would like going to this nearby diner and she did; any opportunity to spend time with her dad always delighted her.
At breakfast, Jessica’s father commented several times about how bright and healthy she looked. Jessica responded by visibly sitting up straight and smiling. After they finished breakfast, her father drove her directly to school.
Notice that Jessica’s dad did not nag, cajole, or get stressed out about her going to school. He knew she wasn’t really sick so he didn’t want to reinforce any belief that she was. Instead, he gave her affirming, esteem-building messages about herself. As a result, she felt good about going to school. Her dad’s approach worked beautifully.
Read Clues to Understand Messages
As a parent, you won’t always know what beliefs dance in your children’s heads and cause their bodies to react to those beliefs. Yet you can observe the clues and help them feel safe and loved. Recognition, kindness, and positive expectations are often all they need to change what’s not working.
Jessica’s father read the clues from his daughter’s body and wisely used the mind-body connection to help her overcome her fear of going to school. Indeed, sometimes the clues are quite literal, for adults as well as children. The following examples come from my book Nurture Your Child’s Gift (Beyond Words Publishing):
- If you have back problems, you might wonder what areas of your life you are backing out of, or what burdens you believe you carry on your back. Maybe you simply don’t feel supported.
- If your legs give you problems, perhaps you aren’t standing up for yourself in some areas of your life. You may feel stuck or refuse to move ahead with something.
- If you have stomach problems, they could be related to something unpleasant that you have trouble digesting.
- If your throat is sore, you may feel reluctant to express something out loud.
How To Effect Changes
To build esteem through the mind-body connection, know that the body continuously conveys important messages from the mind. Your challenge is to consciously understand what messages your children send out and receive. To gain insight, ask these questions:
- What messages from family members feed your children’s beliefs?
- What kinds of statements do you use with them directly?
- What language and messages do you observe them using among their peers?
- What television shows do they watch?
- What chat rooms do they visit on the Internet?
If you are not happy with the answers you get, write down definitive actions you’ll take to effect changes. Set a timeline for making these changes and stick with your plan.
In the process of doing this, you’ll teach your children to take charge of their thoughts and direct them in a conscious way…just as Jennifer’s father encouraged her to think of herself as healthy, not sick.
Also coach them to rely on their inherent abilities, to really believe in their own talents. Tell them they can sing like meadowlarks! The more positively children think about themselves, the more aware they become of their own strengths. Then they’ll have increased confidence as they move forward in their lives.
Armed with these insights, how would you deal differently with Eric’s destructive outburst? I suggest you persistently and confidently use the mind-body connection to influence his behavior in the moment...and know you can affect his self-esteem for years to come.
© 2011 by Dr. Caron B Goode, NCC, DAPA.