By Viki de Lieme
It usually starts with a small thing. He hit his brother. He's violent. She spilled some milk. She's clumsy. He spoke some harsh words. He's disrespectful. She ate too fast. She's impolite. He didn't do his chores. He's lazy.
It happens subconsciously, but it happens. Our brain judges and labels every input we receive. And since parenting offers us a constant and endless stream of input, at some point, we stop parenting young human beings and start parenting labels instead.
Last week it happened to me, as well. I can't remember what started it, but I had imprinted "he just won't listen to me" on my sensitive brain. And since the imprint was there, it was the lens through which I saw everything.
When Ilay didn't reply to me immediately (and why would he?), my brain screamed, "He just doesn't listen to you!"
When he asked for another episode before showering (which is absolutely fine), my brain called, "He just won't listen to you."
When I told him it's hot outside, so it's time to switch to summer clothes, and he said “no” (which is very much okay), you got it - my brain screamed again.
Who Rules The Imprint
Now, here's the thing. We're all ruled by imprints; the question is - who rules the imprints that rule us?
When we are governed by the imprints that occur subconsciously, life is a mound of negativity simply because our brain is naturally biased toward it. We are designed to look for "bad" in the name of our protection and survival. If we know where "bad" is, we'll stay away, fix, change, or do whatever it is to bring "good" forth. But what happens when our children are "bad" in our brain's view? We can't "fix" them, we can't change them, and we definitely can't stay away. So we shut down, our hearts slowly growing further apart.
What Imprints Are Made Of
Every imprint has four components: reality, thoughts, needs, and feelings. Here's how it works:
- Reality: Ilay didn't reply to me immediately.
- Thought: Ilay never listens to me.
- Needs: I have a need to be seen and heard and this need is unmet.
- Feelings: Frustration, annoyance, anger.
When this cycle happens daily (or hourly), our thoughts and feelings intensify, amplifying the exact imprint that caused them.
Does this sound familiar?
If this happens to you, too, please don't feel bad about it. It happens to all of us. So many families have that one child (at best) who is harder to live with, harder to connect to, and more challenging to find common grounds with.
The change we're yearning for happens when we find the courage to counter our negativity bias and to replace the imprint - mindfully.
The truth is that there is "good" everywhere. It's just that so often, we can't see it because of these tricks our brain plays on us.
I want to teach you a simple three-step process that will allow you to replace the negative imprint, communicate your values instead of your judgments, and reconnect with your child to bring positive change into your house. I call it the "Un-print."
- Identify the imprint you'd like to change.
- Challenge it.
- Rewrite your thoughts.
- Enjoy connecting feelings!
Feels complicated? Don't let your brain trick you again. We're biased to negativity, but also, we're prone to attachment and connection.
The Un-Print in Real Life
So when I notice I have this screaming brain standing between my child and me, I know it is time to change, time to change ME.
- Identify the imprint: I identified the imprint and learned that I had forgotten that people do for themselves, never against another.
- Challenge the imprint: So was he not listening to me, or was he focused on something of great interest to him? Was he not listening to me, or was he seeking more time to chill after a long day? Was he not listening to me, or was he protecting his physical autonomy?
- Rewrite your thought: I get it. No longer thinking Ilay isn’t listening to me, I can see the needs he communicates through his behavior. I can connect to these needs because I have them, too. And I can take all this understanding and use it to create connection and communication. That’s when cooperation becomes natural again.
I have a smile on my face just from writing this. Can you feel it? :)
When we're connected to our children's needs, and we communicate to them that we see, know, and accept them, our children begin to learn about who they are, what they want, and how to express themselves. They learn that they are worthy of being heard. Isn't this what all human beings want?
It played out a little something like this:
"Wow, you must be laser-focus on something. What are you doing?"
"I can't build the dragon's claws. Can you help me with this LEGO?"
"Come, honey, it's time to shower."
"No, I want to watch another episode."
"Oh, you feel that you need more time to relax and do nothing? Are you exhausted?"
"I get it. How long do you need?"
When we create the imprint that rules us, we choose a life of connection.
This is a true revolution.
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Author Viki de Lieme is a life and parenting coach, specializing in Nonviolent Communication and Mindfulness.
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