Your Behavior As A Parent Influences Your Children's Behavior
What parents do and don't do, say and don't say, provide their children with the experiences that the children interpret into beliefs. Those beliefs, in turn, then determine their behavior and emotions and, ultimately, their lives-for better or for worse.
Most parents at this point respond: "I've never thought about beliefs before. Isn't our job as parents to get our children to behave, to teach them, and to make them happy?" The question we suggest you ask yourself is: At what cost?
If you succeed in achieving what you wanted, and, as a result of your interaction with your child, he or she forms negative self-esteem beliefs, such as, I'm not good enough or I'm not worthwhile, or negative beliefs about life, such as, What I want doesn't matter or I'll never get what I want, was your behavior really "successful"? In other words, is what you achieved short term with your child worth the long-term cost?
We're not saying that your children's behavior on a daily basis, their learning, and their current happiness are not important. Of course they are. What we are saying is that the single factor that has the greatest impact on whether or not your child achieves happiness and true satisfaction in life is a healthy self-esteem, a positive sense of life, and other positive beliefs, for example, Relationships work; It's safe to express feelings; and People can be trusted. Nothing they do, learn or feel as a child will have as much influence on their adult life as the fundamental beliefs they form as a child and take into adulthood. (What are the possibilities of a truly satisfying life if you believe I'm not good enough, I'm not worthwhile, What I want doesn't matter, or I'll never get what I want?)
Given that fact, what do you think that the major role of parents should be? Influencing behavior? Teaching information? Making their children happy?Bor facilitating their children in creating positive decisions about themselves and life?
If you chose the latter, the best way we know of to insure that you are getting your job as a parent done is constantly to ask yourself the question: What is my child likely to conclude about him or herself and life as a result of this interaction we just had? If it is a positive decision, congratulations! You got your job done. If it is a negative decision, go back, apologize and clean it up.
The following two anecdotes involve interactions we had with each of our two children. They illustrate some of the consequences of choosing something other than facilitating the creation of positive beliefs as the primary function of parenting.
Morty noticed one day after our then ten-year-old daughter Blake took a friend's hat that he immediately told her to give it back. Why, he asked himself a few minutes after his interaction with her, did he tell her what to do? If the friend got angry and didn't speak to Blake for a day or two, that would be a good lesson for her on respecting other people's property. Having one friend not talk to her for a couple of days wouldn't be a catastrophe. If, on the other hand, the friend didn't get angry, then it was just a game and Blake would give it back on her own when the game was over. There were a half dozen other possible outcomes. Regardless of what happened, however, why had he felt that he had to make sure she gave it right back?
Morty discovered after a little exploration that he believed that "I am responsible for my children's behavior toward others." And, "if I am responsible, then I have to make sure she always does what I think is appropriate and never does what I think is not appropriate." Can you see how these beliefs led to Morty telling her to give the hat back?
The next question to consider is: What conclusions would Blake eventually come to if Morty continued this type of behavior long enough? There's something wrong with me (because dad is always telling me what to do and not to do). Or, I can't count on myself to do the right thing. Or, I need someone else to make sure I do the right thing. With this belief, what would happen when someone tells her that "everyone" is trying drugs, or having sex, etc.? If she can't count on her own judgment, she would have to listen to what everyone else is saying. (Obviously there are good ways of teaching children without always interfering or telling them what to do that I obviously cannot cover in this short article.)
When Brittany, our other daughter, was four, she took about ten two-to-four inch pieces of Scotch tape from Shelly's desk and was using it to play with. Shelly asked her to not take any more tape because she was wasting it. Brittany did it several more times and Shelly found myself getting increasingly annoyed with the amount of tape she was "wasting." Shelly told her that she wouldn't be allowed to come into my home office anymore if she kept taking the tape.
After several more incidents like this, Shelly said to myself: What's the big deal? Putting a couple of feet of tape on paper, the waste basket and the wall is wasting tape by adult standards, but it is a game by a child's standardsBand a very inexpensive game at that. On the other hand, what is she concluding about herself and life as a result of these interactions with me?
One possibility might be: It's only okay to do what others think is okay. Or perhaps, Mommy's constantly unhappy with what I do. Or, I can't be trusted in Mommy's office. Or: What I want to do doesn't matter. Shelly clearly had to stop this type of behavior, but first she had to figure out what she believed that produced it. When Shelly finally discovered it she realized that it was a belief that a great many parents had: Children should have the same standards of behavior as adults. Why should they? Children are not adults!
To the extent that children already have formed "negative" beliefs, all is not lost. The beliefs can be eliminated. Over twenty years ago Morty developed the Lefkoe Belief Process, a technique that allows people to identify the specific beliefs that are responsible for any dysfunctional behavioral or emotional patterns (e.g., eating disorders, chronic depression or anxiety, yelling at children, and the inability to get relationships to work), and then quickly and permanently eliminate those beliefs. When the beliefs disappear, the patterns do also.
It might be difficult for most parents to assist their children to use the Lefkoe Belief Process to eliminate beliefs that have been formed many years earlier. But as he explains in his book, Re-create Your Life: Transforming Yourself and Your World, there is a simple variation of the Lefkoe Belief Process that parents can use to assist their children to identify and eliminate beliefs as they are being formed.
Here's one real-life example of the technique. Shelly was at a friend's house one day when the friend's eleven-year-old daughter Elizabeth threw her pencil down while doing her math homework and exclaimed: "I'm stupid in math!" Her mother immediately asked: "Do you really believe that?" "I sure do," Elizabeth replied.
Shelly turned to Elizabeth and asked: "When did you conclude I'm stupid in math?"
Elizabeth explained: "My teacher gave a surprise test in math a couple of days ago. I failed it. My teacher then put the names of everyone who had failed on the board. Everyone in the class saw who the stupid kids were."
"Is it real for you that your belief that 'I'm stupid in math' came from the incident with the math teacher a few days ago?" "Yes," Elizabeth answered.
"That's a very reasonable conclusion," Shelly commented. "In fact, a lot of the kids whose names were on the board probably concluded the same thing, didn't they?" (Notice that Shelly did not try to talk Elizabeth out of her belief. She validated Elizabeth's conclusion.)
"I bet they did!"
"What else could that incident have meant? What are a few other possible interpretations of that incident?"
After a little coaching, Elizabeth came up with these possibilities:
"Well, it could mean that I wasn't prepared for that test and, if she had given me notice and I had studied for it, I could have done well."
Shelly replied, "Okay, what else could it have meant?"
"I'm not good in math now, but I'll get better later on.
"I was tired that day and wasn't thinking well.
"It was a particularly hard test.
"It was a lot of 'times tables' that we had to do quickly, which I didn't know, but that doesn't mean I'm bad in math. "I had just gotten in a fight with another kid and was distracted."
Shelly asked her: "Can you see that failing the test and having your name put on the board could mean that you're stupid in mathBand it also could mean a lot of other things?"Sure, I can see that."
"Didn't it seem as if you could see in the class room at the time that 'I'm stupid in math'?"
"I sure did."
"Is it real to you now that you never "saw" that? That the event had no inherent meaning? That the meaning was only in your mind?"
"Yeah. I didn't see it. It was only in my mind."
"Do you still believe that 'I'm stupid in math'?"
"No, I don't."
A few months later Elizabeth came home from school and excitedly told her mother: "We had a Mastery Test in math and I got 'excellent'."
This is one example of how the Lefkoe Belief Process can be used with a child or adolescent. We use it frequently with our children whenever we hear them make a blanket statement about almost anything: I am ...; school is ...; people are ....
The statement usually is the result of recent incidents that can be recalled easily. A fight with a few friends can lead to no one likes me.
Here are the five simple steps of the Lefkoe Belief Process to eliminate a belief:
Try this exercise! We promise that it's as easy as it sounds most of the time. And even if it doesn't work the first time, so what. Try it again. You've got everything to gain and nothing to lose.
- What is the belief?
- What happened that led to the belief being formed?
- What are a few other logical interpretations of what happened other than the one you originally came up with?
- Didn't it seem at the time that you could see in the world that (state the belief)?
- Is it real now that you never saw it, that your belief was only one interpretation that exists only in your mind?
In addition to assisting your child to eliminate "negative" beliefs as they formed, remember to keep asking yourself as you interact with your child: What conclusion is my child reaching? Asking that question will make more of a difference in his or her life than you can possibly imagine.