For years, I have been encouraging people of all ages to consider diligently practicing changes in thinking and/or behavior, ideally, with an attitude of mastery. Indeed, great interventions take practice.
We seem to be clear about the value of diligently practicing physical skills and technique in athletics, music and art. At the same time, however, we seem to be much less clear, or even unaware, about the need to practice using different parenting interventions or changes in thinking. Making a decision to diligently practice in these arenas will pay off.
A Need for Change
Let me share an example from my book, Ask More, Tell Less (Chapter Ten, “Drastically Decrease Lectures and Speeches”). Perhaps you have heard a child say something like, “I’m dumb,” or “I’m stupid,” or “I can’t learn.” In lecture mode, the conversation might go something like this:
(Parent) No, you’re not. You can do a lot of things and you’re smart. I don’t want you to keep saying those things about yourself. You know you won’t ever do well thinking that way. Besides, I don’t like seeing you so upset, so stop talking that way. Why do you keep saying such negative things about yourself anyway?
(Child) I don’t know.
(Parent) Well, please stop talking like that.
Here the beginning practice is noticing to build awareness; this type of parental communication shuts down the conversation and leaves the child powerless to think and decide for himself? Who is doing the thinking and talking in this example?
To create a framework for practicing in this arena of thinking/belief change, you might think in terms of the work-out language of physically “doing reps.” So one should begin parental practice by thinking in terms of doing thought-and-feeling-watching reps and mental-shift reps just like the reps in physical skill practices. You can decide to notice your thoughts and feelings 10, 20, 50 or 100 times a day, plus whether or not you need to make a mental shift from DON’T lecture unnecessarily to DO ask quality questions. Based on what thoughts your noticing practice produces, you can ask one additional question: “Will this thought/belief work for me or against me in achieving what I want in this situation with my child?”
As you practice building awareness of the long-term impact of thinking and doing too much for a child, imagine practicing shifting from giving a “lecture” like the one noted above, to practicing what I call quality question-asking. Right now, as you are reading this, practice noticing the felt mental-and-emotional shift when a parent stops lecturing and telling their child what to do and think and begins practicing asking thought-provoking questions like these:
How much longer do you plan to practice believing you’re stupid?
Does saying “I’m dumb” and “I can’t” help you make friends or lose friends?
If you stopped believing you’re stupid for just one second, what one new thought might sneak into your brain?
Rather than spending a lot of time telling your children what you think, spend the time skillfully asking them what they think. When some different action or behavior is necessary, begin by asking them what they plan to do.
Time to Reflect
Take a moment to practice reflecting. Here are some questions to get you started:
Can you imagine making this shift from telling to asking?
Can you see the efficacy of asking a single question which replaces the typical lectures children are given when the desire is for the child to change?
Can you see how this question-asking practice takes some of the pressure off of the parent who is anguishing over figuring out the just right thing to do or say?
Are you the kind of person who sticks with new practices or do you notice you give up and revert back to old, known ways? ###
Greg Warburton is an experienced mental health professional who believes that children and parents grow as they become more self-reliant. For more information about his work and this book, go to his website [link].