Ants in my pants – and how to get rid of them for good

“It’s as if there are 1000 large green ants inside my legs.”

I was coaching a teenager who had a hard time sitting still with his legs.

Or – as he put it – it was impossible for him to sit still with his legs.

He had tried every possible way to get the legs to stop moving all the time. To no avail.

While he and I had worked our way through his first problem in record time, his legs where in constant motion. When we wrapped up that first problem, I asked him what happened down in the legs – inside the legs.

He told me that it was like there were 1,000 large green ants crawling around down there.

Communicating With the Subconscious Mind

The ants were of course a metaphor for how the boy’s mind could best describe the experience. It turns out that when you accept that metaphor, you are in effect having a conversation with the boy’s subconscious mind. And when you do that, things can change incredibly fast.

If you are willing to accept that whatever comes out of the mouth of other people as what is actually going on inside of them, you get a magnificent insight into what is causing their inappropriate behavior. My client’s words was an expression of what is experienced inside the parallel reality where our thoughts and feelings and mental images live.

Taking the metaphor at face value,  great things happen.

Accepting the Metaphor

I asked the boy what he would like to have happen to the ants.

“I just want them out of the legs,” he said.

“In what way out of legs,” I asked.

“Like completely out, – as if they were let out through a small hatch in the front of the big toe,” he replied, pointing to the right big toe, which was sitting still despite the movement of the leg.

I also pointed to his right big toe and said, “If you imagine a small hatch in the front of the big toe, what is it like to let the ants out?”

The boy looked puzzled down on the big toe. The right leg stopped moving. Only the right. “It is strange.”

“In what way strange?” I asked. Also puzzled – but mostly because only one of the legs had calmed down.

“All the ants have gathered out on the floor now.”

“All? What about those in the left leg,” I asked.

“Oh well, they didn’t come out. We have to get them out as well.”

“In what way do you want to let them out?”

“Perhaps through a hatch in the left big toe.”

“Good idea. What is it like to let them all out that way?”

“Wild!” he said and laughed. Now with both feet firmly planted on the floor.

Yes. Wild!

And maybe just a little bit crazy…

Why We Get Ants In Our Pants

Our beautiful, strange brains may be hard to understand sometimes, and in this case when the boy started elementary school he had had a hard time being “tied” to a chair. Part of him just wanted to go out and play. So part of his subconscious mind had tried in every possible way to get him up from the chair and out of the room. Another part of him wanted to be well behaved, so he sat still in his seat trying to ignore the part of him that wanted to get out and play.

And so the inner battle started between the part of him that wanted to get out and the part of him that wanted to stay. In this case, the part of him that wanted to get out became an inner experience of having ants in his legs. The experience may only have become ants after an adult used the expression to describe his behavior.

And when you have ants in your legs, you move around.

Work With What Comes From the Child

When you hear your child use a metaphor, what you have to do is just accept it at face value.

“Oh, your home work is killing you?” “In what way is homework killing you?”

“Did you say that your thoughts are spinning around?” “Which way are they spinning?”

I promise you that you’ll have interesting conversations with your child, and that you’ll learn things about the way he thinks that you never knew about.

Of course your child may not accept that you are headed into metaphor land with him. Then just let it go for now. And catch another metaphor some other time.

Transforming ADHD Through Metaphors

The ADHD diagnosis is based on unwanted behavior, and most often people try to have the child change the behavior first. However for every unwanted behavior there’s one or more underlying inner experiences that makes the child act inappropriately.

These are the experiences that we need to get to and change, in order to transform ADHD into an asset. We do this easily by getting to the metaphors that drive the behavior.

It is so much easier to change the metaphors (thoughts and emotions), when we want to change the behavior. Then behavior that has not budged previously can be changed from the inside out instead.

Now over to you

What are some metaphors that your child is using about what is going on inside of him or her?

If you are inspired by this article, please share it on social. There are great links for that below. ?

Have a great day!

Anders.

PS: If you are a parent and want more tools that work with your child, then get access to the free Transformational ToolBox – a series of tools that will help you get started Transforming ADHD with your child.

ADHD: How to get you child to do anything

The other day my youngest daughter got up to stand on her already high chair to get something on the table during dinner. I grabbed her to hold her steady, because I got scared she might fall.

And I said in a demanding voice that she should sit down.

This made her hurt and angry and she fled to the sofa at the other end of the room. From where she refused to join the dinner. She did want the attention of her older sister though, This made it difficult for the older girl to stay seated and for dinner to proceed.

After a couple of attempts to get her to come back to the table, I realized that we I was stuck in a very familiar situation with our youngest daughter. Make specific demands and she will fight you until she falls asleep far too late. She’s headstrong like that.

And I remembered what we do, when we easily dissolve those situations and move on from them.

  1. We stop making specific demands on her.
  2. We acknowledge that she feels hurt.
  3. We don’t nurse her or make it attractive to stay hurt. In practice we almost ignore her.
  4. We make it attractive for her to join us again.

So I did just that. Did not tell her to come over (she knew by now). In fact, did not tell her to do anything. I didn’t even invite her over to the table anymore. As this might at this point be interpreted af further demands.

Instead I decided to see if I could make it so attractive that she couldn’t stay away.

Every evening during dinner we do a round of “What were the best things that happened today?” The girls start off by telling us three things that happened during the day, that they are happy to remember and have been a part of.

So I started that round with the older sister. And I got really into her story, head close to her so she spoke softly. And I asked extra questions to have her tell me about the cave that she had built in the kindergarden play room, and about how she played there with her friends. She was beaming form the story and the attention.

While the story was going on the smaller sister called from the sofa to hear what we were talking about. And I told her in an excited voice that I was listening to the older sisters story about the best things of the day.

Then she proceeded to tell me (still from the couch) that she didn’t like that I have grabbed her while standing on the chair. I agreed that she didn’t like that (acknowledging her emotions), and went back to the older sisters story.

Next thing I know, the younger sister slides onto her chair and asks for her food.

Without mentioning the incident that she just came out of, I gave her the food and asked her about all the best things that happened in her day.

She told us her stories about the bicycle she had been riding and the games she had played. And I gave her the same kind of attention that I had given the older sister.

It was impossible to tell that she has just been in the sofa, hurt and angry with me and my ways. We were just back to normal. Present. Happy. Content.

And I was just so happy on the inside that I am able to change my tactic along the way. This way I get to spend so much quality time with the girls.

What is wrong with scolding/setting clear limits/demanding?

Imagine being scolded as an adult.

Think about the emotions that would start in you. Think about how that would change the relation to the person that scolds you. F*** that person!

We all hate being scolded. And while it may increase the likelyhood of you doing what they want you to do, very likely it ruins your relationship with them. Maybe even for good.

All the scolding and and the threats are the wrong way to go about helping your kids adjust their behaviors.

Scolding will produce only one thing with 100% reliability: Negative inner dialogue in the child.

I find that among my clients negative inner dialogue is one of the most life destroying factors. You can have a great life that you can’t appreciate because you tear yourself and every achivement down in your own mind.

And negative inner dialogue stays with you the rest of your life, unless you manage to transform that internal dialogue to a constructive and supportive inner dialogue. And you don’t “just” do that unless you work with a highly skilled coach.

Most people never get rid of their negative inner dialogue because they don’t know that it’s even possible. Most often my clients are surprised that it’s possible, and that it’s possible for THEM, and even more so that they just did it.

So if you want to avoid creating a lot of negative inner dialogue in your child, then now is a good time to change your strategy.

And if your child is already going down the path of negative inner dialogue, then now is a perfect time to show them that you have a better strategy that works, so they can start adopting the new one. (If they are in a hole, use the ADHD Power Mind series to help them transform from the inside out.)

Why I did it this way

Years back I read a story of  the Hungarian psychologist and chess player László Polgár who wanted to show that he could make chess masters out of all his three girls. He accomplished this incredible feat by not only making playing so attractive that the girls had to beg to be part of the game, but once they were playing and being taught by him, he gave them his full attention and made the game and the learning process as enjoyable as possible.

We need to make good behavior attractive, and if we are to find an internal motivation – instead of some type of external motivation system (candy, ipad time, etc.) – then your presence and being given your full attention will be the most powerful motivator any child can have.

What we need to do instead is to attempt to produce interest, curiosity, longing for presence and attention in the child. It has become our go-to strategy to dissolving minor conflicts that arise from the parent wanting to do one thing and the child not wanting to do it.

Make it fun.

Examples include:

Getting outside:

Child: “I don’t want to go outside today. AT ALL!”

(Me almost: “You have to. Uh. Because it’s healthy and because I say so….”)

Me: “Who wants to go outside and play in the mud pool on the other side of the road?”

Two children: “Meeee!”

Inevitably these situations turn out much better than if the child had just accepted. This particular day we ended up playing in the mud for more than an hour and I returned with two happy, tired and soaked girls. And I used the experience to entertain about stories from when I worked in nature conservation in Australia. Much more fun than if I had brought a cup of tea and my smartphone with me.

Going to bed:

Child: “I don’t want to go to bed. I want to PLAY OUTSIDE!”

My wife: “I’ll be going upstairs and I can’t wait to see if that story, we started reading yesterday will be as fun today as it was yesterday. Do you want to go first up the stairs?”

Child: “Yeah!”

This is how you do it

There are a couple of elements that goes into creating a situation, where the child will follow your lead.

  1. Be the adult in the room. When we get irritated, frustrated, angry (all versions of anger), we don’t act like adults. We are emotionally highjacked by parts of our personality that think that anger will resolve situations to our advantage. It doesn’t, because we are not 4 years old anymore.
  2. Remember the Positive Intention. You stay being the adult in the room when you keep in mind that the child has a positive intention with his behavior.  (Get the Transformational Toolbox to understand the Positive Intention better!)
  3. Stay in this situation. If you “go to the museum” that holds all the other times that this has happened, you are not being present with the current situation. Going to the museum has already happened if you think or say aloud “Oh no, not again!”. Then you just spent a split second letting your mind rile you up by visiting all the previous similar situations where the child did something that irritated you or frustrated you.
  4. Take a look at the situation from the outside perspective. Your mind holds the ability to see things from the “helicopter” perspective or the observer perspective. Go there. This is where you can look at the situation and be a little more objective and where your emotions are not involved in the decision making process.
  5. Bring in your “Fun Mom” or “Creative Dad”. Put these other parts of you to work trying to figure out ways to give the child a way out of the situation that leads to something that the child will love.
  6. Do it with them. Your kids wants to have a great time with you more than anything. Unless of course if they are already teenagers. Then try it out, but you may have to apply other tactics. If you want the kid to go outside, go outside and play. Leave your phone inside or set an alarm and put it in your pocket if you need the timer to get back inside. (I forgot the other day in the mudpool, so we had laaaate dinner.”
  7. When you do succeed celebrate in your mind and with your partner. Cheer yourself so that you remember what you just did. Make that a part of the new museum that you attend when the kid acts out.
  8. As the child becomes older, share the experience with them, so that they learn to reflect on conflict and learn to see their behavior from the outside too.

And remember.

It’s way easier to include than to train you child.

If you found inspiration in this article to do things differently in your family, please share the article on Facebook or Twitter – or directly with the person that you are thinking about.

Have a great day,

Anders.

PS: Also – find more insights and tools in the Free Transformational Toolbox for parents.

ADHD, Learn from mistakes; Boy with plaster on head

ADHD: How to help your child learn from his mistakes

Does your child have difficulty learning from his mistakes? In this article you’ll get insights into one of the most common mistakes that we do as parents, that teaches our children to not learn for their mistakes.

Our neighbor living above us in the apartment building had a 3 year old daughter. She was always running around in the apartment and since she was running on her heels, we always knew which room she was in. Dokdokdokdok. Running around.

No problem. We were starting a family as well and knew that we would have our own girl running around like that soon.

Stupid door?

One day it went dokdokdokdokdok-bang, and we could hear that she fell to the floor and started crying. We looked at each other. She okay?

Then her dad came running – also a heel runner – to help her. And because of her crying, he spoke so loud that we could her what he said to her. And he said something that we have used to completely transform our parenting style. In fact, he said something so profound that we still talk about it almost every week, when we hear references to the phenomenon in daily life.

His words were: “Stupid, stupid door! Poor you!”

We looked at each other and went “What?!”

In that one sentence, trying to help his little girl not feel so bad about the accident, he also managed to take away her responsibility in the crash, – and blamed the static door! As if the door stuck it’s side out just as the girl was about to pass it with a safe margin, and hit her in the face with its full capacity.

Come on. Doors don’t do that! Then why did he blame it on the door? And more importantly – what is the long term effect on the girl and her understanding of herself and her responsibility in the world?

Now, you might think that this is a funny story, poor girl, – but what does it have to do with bigger kids, teens or us as adults? We know that doors don’t do that. Riiiight!? Obviously we do know this – with our adult conscious mind, but parts of our subconscious mind are functioning in a different way as we shall see in the next section.

I think that after reading this article, you will realize just how often you and your kids do this exact thing no matter how old you and they are.

And even better, – you’ll have ways to help yourself and your child change the way you think and learn and take responsibility in life.

What is the problem?

There really are two problems. One would be enough, but as the kids get older, the other one kicks in because of the first one.

The first is that fact that we ascribe actions and intentions to things. Not only to other people which would be bad enough, but to things. We’ll say stuff like:

  • These shoe laces are teasing me.
  • The ice cream fell out of the cup.
  • My bike slid on the pavement, so I fell over.
  • The sofa attacked me and sucked me in.
  • School wasn’t fun today.
  • Traffic was acting up today.

And so on. We make (often static) things the initator of the problem.

It is not because I can’t quite figure out how to tie my shoelaced. No. It’s the shoe laces fault.

It’s not because I was deeply entranced by what was happening in the street that I forgot to hold my ice cream cup upright. No. The ice cream decided that it didn’t want to stay in the cup anymore. So it fell out of the cup.

I didn’t drive recklessly on my bike. The bike was unable to hold on to the pavement while I was speeding where there was gravel on the pavement.

You see the picture, I’m sure.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Often times it’s even more obvious in our language that something is wrong:

  • These shoe laces frustrate me!
  • My bike makes me so angry!
  • School just pisses me off!
  • Home work makes me want to cry.
  • Traffic gets the worst up in me.

And so on.

You see what happened there?

Not only did the thing do something to you, the thing actually caused an emotion in you.

Things can’t cause emotions in you, but the words that come out of our mouths are an effect of what is on our minds. There’s a one to one correlation between the stuff that comes out of our mouths and what we are thinking (often subconsciously) and how we have constructed our understanding of the world.

Notice the difference here:

These shoelaces frustrate me. vs. I frustrate myself over these shoelaces.

See who’s doing the frustrating now?

Home work makes me want to cry. vs. I want to cry when I have to do home work.

So when you hear your child start blaming things for his emotions, you can gently guide him to another understanding over time, by repeating what he said back to him, but with him at the active participant in the encounter. Just like in the examples above.

The other consequence is worse

When we teach the kids that the door did it, then we also teach them that the thing that just happened was not their fault. They don’t have to resume responsibility for the crash, and they don’t have to change anything in the future to avoid further crashes.

When they are not to blame, they don’t have to change a thing. This means that they’ll have a harder time learning from their mistakes because subconsciously they are not to blame. Part of them will internalize this and continue to blame outside things or people.

When we let homework get our kids down and we let shoelaces start cascades of emotions in the kids, then they have a hard time realizing that they are the emoting part. They are much better of realizing the causality of things and their responsibility in the world. That way they can learn from it and change their actions.

That way they don’t have to rely on the things around them to create better emotions in them…

Just saying it out loud makes it kind of ridiculous, right?

To sum it up

The consequences of letting things outside of you be at fault work on a deep subconscious level.

  1. The kid becomes a victim. This is serious. You don’t want you child feeling like a victim. You want him to be responsible. Then talk to her like he is responsible.
  2. The kid does not learn from his mistakes. When it’s not his fault, there really is no reason to adjust his own part in this.

One of the most important things that you need to learn to successfully navigate life, is to learn from your failures. What else is there to learn from? When everything is going well, we are in flow. When things go bad, we have a chance to learn from it.

Your part in your child’s learning process in crucial.

You can do like our neighbor and let the child off and let her become a victim of the situation and the viscious door.

Or you can – without blame – inspire your child to learn from the incident.

So – how to do this.

How do you then “blame” your child without turning it into a blame game?

Here’s how.

When the child goes: “The door hit me! Waaaaaah!”

You remain calm and goes: “I can see that. You ran into the door. That must have really hurt you!” or “Ouch, that must have hurt, when you ran into the door!”

This way you return responsibility to the owner and still show the child the proper care.

Then – when the child is ready (and this may be seconds, minutes or hours) – ask the child what he learned from the experience. And let him guide you to understand what must be done differently next time this situation arises.

This will help the child feel empowered and you put him in the “teacher” role, letting him come up with the best possible solution he can imagine. It may not be as good as the one the you can imagine, but it’ll fit with his understanding of the world and his perceived options in it. If there’s far between his solution and a “good” solution, you may want to assist him by giving him open questions to reflect on.

“Are there any other ways that you can avoid getting hurt falling on your bicycle in the turn – other than never bike again?”

Now over to you

Did you notice this pattern in your family/child/you?

How do you help your child change his/her feeling of empowerment in those situations?

Have a great day!

Anders.

PS. I am doing a followup to this article to tell you about another common pattern that makes it almost impossible for your child to learn anything constructive from his mistakes. Sign up to the newsletter to get the article when it comes out.