As a new mother, I have come to experience this even more so recently where we live in an era where we don’t want our child to experience, or ‘feel’ pain. Sometimes I think “if I could literally wrap him up in cotton wool he won’t feel pain,” of course I don’t, but the thought of him knowing, experience or feeling pain, pains me. However, this might be the very key in helping your child make the changes he/she needs in order to be happy and mindful of his/her actions.
You see, people in general do more to avoid pain than what they do to get pleasure. This is because we don’t like to ‘feel’ any type of pain what so ever, even if the pain is temporary and will get us the results we want to have. Think about it, we want to lose weight, yet we are feeling stressed and see chocolate in the cupboard that would go nicely with our coffee, we reach for the chocolate and think “one won’t hurt.” Yet if we eat that chocolate every day, or create a habit of eating chocolate to relieve stress, in time, we will feel the pain, but temporary we won’t. You see, the pain of NOT eating that chocolate in that moment, is greater than the pain of not losing weight in that moment. If we want lasting change then we have to create more pain around NOT getting the results we want. The reason why we enjoy that chocolate so much is because we have linked pleasure to eating it. We have linked neuro-associations in our nervous system to eating chocolate with gaining pleasure, even if in the long run it creates a lot of pain for us because we are not losing the weight we desire. That’s because what we link pleasure to shapes our destiny, it shapes how we live our lives. If we link enough pain to any emotional behaviour, then we will stop doing it and avoid it at all costs. So to change any behavior, we need to start maximizing the pain it creates in our lives, and then we will stop doing that behaviour.
It is the same with children. Children will continue to do a particular behavior if it is immediately less painful than the desired behavior. That’s because what drives our behavior is our instinctive reaction to pain and pleasure, it isn’t intellectual, it’s purely emotional. So merely ‘talking’ about the unwanted behaviour wont change it. We have to stack the pain. In words of Anthony Robbins “people who are fit and healthy believe that nothing tastes as good as thin feels.” We can apply this same kind of thinking to anything we do in our lives, and apply it with our children.
To help change your child’s behavior it’s important to change what they link pain and pleasure to. In order to do this there are a few questions you can ask your child and work through together*. Here are a select few:
- “What do you think will be the consequences if you continue to do this behavior?” It’s important that they link the behavior to what it might ‘cost’ them, short term and long term. So follow on with asking “what will this choice cost you today? In a week? In a year, if it doesn’t change?”
- “What is the benefit of this choice?” This might seem like a strange question to ask your child because you don’t want them to focus on the positives of this choice. However, they need to understand that any behavior we do, it’s because there is some kind of ‘benefit’. By brainstorming with your child what this might be, then that opens up conversations as to how they could get that benefit in a more productive, or resourceful way. For example, if the child constantly yells in order to get what he/she wants, then the benefit of it might be that they get your undivided attention. If you can work that out together then it’s easier to work out a solution.
- “What don’t you like about this choice?” This is where the pain begins to get ‘stacked’.
- “If you were to do this differently, how would you feel/think/act?”
- “What would be the most important reasons for changing this?”
- “What would changing this give you?”
- “What would you start noticing within you even more?”
- “How would you know that the behavior has changed?”
It’s important that the child comes to the realization on his/her own that by flipping it around, by changing the behavior to what they actually want instead, they can see a better future, they can understand how good it could be. Your child will also see that things do not need to be the way it was, they have the power to make it different, to make it better.
It’s also imperative that the child realizes that all that he or she needs is within them right now. So if he/she is feeling like they want less anger, then they will begin to realize that they have the power to be more calm, they just need your help and support to get them through.
Remember that it’s our beliefs are what gives us pain and pleasure that impact our decisions. So by asking these questions you are getting to understand what your child believes about himself and the world around him, and what gives him pain or pleasure. Once you understand their beliefs then you can help them change it to something that is more powerful, more resourceful, and will help them achieve what they would like to achieve.
And last of all, we are the best role models our children can have to learn, grow and develop, so try this activity for yourself in an area you would like to change. Modelling this with your child is very impactful and you will grow together. How beautiful is that?
Children, like adults, can change, and will change, they just need our help and support. So do this activity in love, and do it together at a time when you are both feeling optimistic and calm so that your child will make the choice to change.
*Please note, there are a lot more questions, and different styles of questions you can ask your child, this is just a sample. I am creating activity books for children that parents can do with them that will have more questions and activities for even greater growth and realizations that create change. Remember the key is for your child to answer the questions, not for you to put the words into your child’s mouth. Because change will only happen if they come to that realization themselves.