Most of our negative or what I prefer to call not-helpful thoughts derive from what our parents or the other significant adults or authorities in our life told us, or how we interpreted the message they gave to us and what emotions we have internally connected to the thoughts. If we have a strong imaginational overexcitability (OE) these internalised complex constellations of thought might even be represented in our lives as e.g. an imaginary frowning grandmother in a chair in the corner of our room who constantly comments on whatever we are doing, thinking or feeling, as one client told me.
Clumsy and messy
I was a very clumsy child, and an even clumsier teenager. Every time I did something new I would normally mess up as I needed an excess of practice to be able to coordinate my body parts. I loved craft and made a big huge mess, with glue, paper, paint, beads and materials, and of course the glue or paint inevitably ended up on the floor, pushed into the carpet, walked through the house – you get the picture!.
And, understandably in the situation, every time when I did something new or messy my mom would say “Stick with what you can do”, in a tone filled with irritation.
I interpreted her words, which, when my energy and resilience – baseline – is low, I sometimes still hear in my mind as I shouldn’t do something new because I won’t be able to do it without messing up and being a real burden to others. This was a real shame as this kind of thinking led to a lot of routes that closed down for me emotionally as a child and young person. For example, even though I was accepted to an art academy, I didn’t dare to go… thinking I would be messing up eventually anyway.
How we want to sound
Ninety percent of our mind occurs in the subconscious, so as parents it’s hugely important that whatever we add to the subconscious of our children is as positive and constructive as can be.
Every time we say something to our children we are planting our norms and values in their subconscious mind, and those words filled with the expressed emotion might stay there for the rest of their life, until he or she consciously raises awareness about those thoughts and changes them. When we learn to do this for ourselves, we model to our children how to do that.
We want our children to have a kind, caring and loving subconscious voice in their head helping them guide through the sometimes difficult times in life.
Our aim is to plant our kind voice in the subconscious minds of our children. A voice that tells them positive things, that helps them move forward towards whatever they want to achieve, a voice that sounds warm and compassionate.
To plant our kind voice, we wait until a) we have the emotional resilience to not bring any emotional load to the message and to stay focused on what we want to achieve, on the voice we want to plant. We will need to have the energy to be creative (and very possibly funny) and be ready to counteract or ignore (whatever works best in the situation) the possible stroppy reaction we are going to receive from our child if we have misjudged the moment. And b) we wait until our child is rested, fed and relaxed enough, and has plowed the ground for our seed to be planted.
We moved house when our son was 12 into a neighbourhood where a group of children around his age was playing outside all the time, which he loved.
Unfortunately, the whole group was in the habit of name-calling and swearing, which our children were not, having just come from the isolated countryside.
Within a fortnight our son was using the kind of taboo-words you might expect from a combination of a sailor and a fish-wife, without understanding what they meant.
Every time when he used those words, I would say something like “I’d prefer you to speak kindly”, or I would say “Calling people names might give the impression that you are lacking vocabulary to express yourself precisely” (Until he discovered later in his life that there was research that suggested that people who swear a lot have a more extensive vocabulary.)
Use of humour
If our child can cope with humour, we can make a joke and express our norms and values about their word choice lightly. However, tread carefully as some children can not accept humour in this way and experience it as fuel on the fire.
We could, for example, say after they have shouted b****…. at us “Aw, sweetheart, I love you too”, with a big grin on our face, or “wow, you’ve now really impressed me with your verbal abilities” combined with a thumbs up gesture. You can also say: “ You can try as hard as you wish to give a different impression, but I know you love me whatever you call me.”
Have an exit strategy ready
When we are raising awareness about an issue, we need to make sure that our tone is light, warm and compassionate. Our good-natured message is most helpful if embedded in love. If we can’t manage to keep it light, we use an exit strategy, if possible we move away (the toilet is fine!) and apply the Awareness Mantra: “I’m proud and grateful to be aware that I have had an unhelpful thought/feeling/action and I’m going to do the 4-7-8 breathing exercise”, or a prayer, or whatever individualised form we have developed to strengthen our baseline and calm ourselves..
If we notice we are feeling low, acting out of a stress response, or expressing any of the enemies of good relationships – criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling or contempt – (as defined by Gottman) it is helpful to use that as a flag-up that our baseline needs nourishing. In this case, it is better refocus on your own baseline and forget about planting the kind voice for now.
When it comes to sibling squabbles, if there is no safety issue, just pretend you don’t hear or see whatever happens, siblings are much better in regulating their behaviour without their parents presence.
Feel free to put earphones in your ears and listen to music or a podcast to refocus on yourself.
Remember, standing up for your norms and values is virtually never a life or death issue, and doesn’t have to be done in the here and now. Often when we feel we have to put something right, this minute, we are in a fight stress response.
Make a bet
My main aim for my son was to make sure he was always aware when he was using taboo words, because awareness makes it possible for him to choose wisely which words to use.
I used to make a bet with him when we were going to visit his grandmother. I would bet a few he would be able to not use any taboo words. This helped him raise awareness of the use of language in social situations.
Nowadays, my son, as a 25-year-old probably will sometimes use language we don’t appreciate, especially among friends. However, when he is at home with us he doesn’t and neither does he do so when he is working or volunteering. He can choose when it is appropriate – and that is good enough for us.
Model what we stand for
We all have limited energy, especially when we have young children. Therefore it’s advisable to think deeply before we take a stand.
Ask yourself: “Am I living what I want to be taking a stand for”, if you’re not it’s not worth going there as our children are never going to do what we tell them unless we also model it to them.
For example, if we dislike swearing, but we do occasionally swear in the privacy of our home, don’t expect our children to never swear. We could take a stand, in this case, for never swearing outside the home or at grandma’s because that’s what we model.
© Simone de Hoogh 2020
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