Behave! Not so easy…
Humans are incredibly complex emotional and cognitive beings.
- We can have an urge to do something and then not do it.
- We can want to focus on something and then move that focus onto something else.
- We can know what is good for us to eat and want to buy it, and still buy something that’s bad for us and eat that instead.
Often when we talk about things like this – the inner struggle – we use terms like:
- “I really wanted to do it, but part of me was afraid to do it!”
- “I sat down to focus, but my mind just kept wandering!”
- “I went to the store to pick up greens for the smoothie, and there was something in me that just made me buy chocolate as well.”
You may recognize this from yourself – or at least from someone you know. 🙂
We all have this inherent duality about pretty much everything in our lives. I work with Neuro Linguistic Programming methods, and in NLP we take everything literal as an expression of what is going on inside a persons mind.
That means that when a person is talking about a part of him that wants to do something and another part of him that is afraid to do it, I accept that as what is actually going on inside of him. Like I did in the case study of the boy with ants in his pants.
When we accept what is going on inside another person, we can have vastly different conversations than we used to have.
The Two Wolves
You may already know the old story of the two wolves.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
In NLP we have an entire field of insights and methods called Parts of the Personality, dedicated to understanding and transforming parts of our personalities that are “bad” or in other ways disruptive to leading a great life.
One of the experiences that have come out of this field is that in most cases there are two opposing parts, – just like the bad and the good wolf above. And just like in the examples I gave at the very top of the article.
Common internal power struggle in people with the ADHD diagnosis is:
- The Motivator vs. The Slacker
- The Focuser vs. The Curiosity
- The Common Sense vs. The Impulsive
Your Child Has Inner Struggles
Often times when we experience conflict with our children, we only see the part of the child that acts as the “bad wolf”. We hear that they don’t want to do something. They won’t stop doing something. They are afraid of something. Or they lie to get out of a poor situation, etc. You know it.
In those situations, we don’t hear the other part. And if we do, we often ignore them.
Imagine this conversation.
Parent: “I heard from you teacher that you hit Emma today! You can’t hit other people like that. We talked about this already!”
Child: “I tried not to hit her, but she said nasty things to me!”
Parent: “You have to stop it.”
And so on.
Now did you notice the “good wolf” in the child’s sentence?
“I tried not to hit her” is the good wolf in your child. And at this point in your child’s life, the power struggle in this type of situations are won by the bad wolf. It has been fed for too long and is stronger than the good wolf.
I say “at this point”, because we can change that.
First of all, we have to realize that it’s there. I’ll give you a couple of real life examples and then talk more about how you can do it too.
To Lie Or Speak The Truth
When my oldest daughter was 4 she learned that she could get out of bad situations if she lied about them. “I didn’t do it, she did!”, – blaming her 2 year younger sister who couldn’t defend herself.
From the theory of the parts of the personality, we know that there’s a part of her that wants to lie because she gets an immediate benefit from doing it. We could call this part of her the Liar. There’s also a part of her that wants to tell the truth – The Truthteller, and apparently it’s not as powerful as the Liar. YET!
So how do we make it stronger? How do we feed it?
What I did when I realized that she was lying one day, was that I got down on my knees so that I could look her in the eye, and I said, sincerely and with power: “I Looove it when you speak the truth! The truth is so important!”
And nothing else. I got up and walked away, as if I was praising her for being honest.
10 seconds later, she came back to me and told me that she had lied. And I praised her again for having told me the truth. I looked her in the eyes and repeated that the truth was important and I loved it when she told me the truth.
From that day on, she told much fewer lies, and when she did, I would just repeat the process of praising her for being honest.
Very importantly I also made a point of praising her for being honest when she was being honest!
And I still do.
Especially when she comes to me to tell me about something she did that she isn’t so proud of…
The idea behind my behavior was and is simply to make sure that she knows – in a positive way – what our family values regarding the truth are, and to feed the “good wolf” as much as possible.
Go To School Or Stay Home
I have been working with a family where the boy didn’t go to school for 9 months, and they wanted to get help getting him back to school.
He is now attending a new school and slowly getting more and more days per week in school. But frustration has been high in the parents when the boy didn’t want to go and couldn’t explain why. The morning struggles where often experienced as a win or loose battleground.
I suggested that they start acknowledging the part of their son that really wanted to go to school, but that had lost the inner battle to the part of him that did not want to go – today. I suggested that they honor the part of him that tried to get out the door, that wanted to go, that is longing to be in school to learn, that really wants to hang out with the new friends.
And it made a difference. For the parents because it moves focus away from what is not working so well. And for the child who gets a very different kind of acknowledgement for who he is and what he is trying to accomplish.
And it seems to have made a difference in the number of days per week in school too.
What You Can Do
As a parent you can look at some of the difficult situations, where you have conflicts or where the child often does the opposite of what you want of expect of him.
Then imagine that he has an inner struggle going, where you can only hear one part of that conflict coming out through his mouth. Then imagine what the opposite part must be. Maybe as you think about it and imagine the parts, you’ll realize that your child has been communicating about it, but you haven’t noticed it before. Maybe not.
If your child is reflective about what is going on, you can relay what you have learned in this article and see if he knows himself who the parts of his inner conflict are. If he’s not old or mature enough you can just assume it’s there, and speak to it and about it. He’ll correct you, if you’re wrong – and you learn from that.
I would love to hear what shift you got from this article in the comments below, and I would be happy if you come back and let me know what is changing in your relationship with your child, when you see all of him and not just the bad wolf.
To Your Success,
PS: Grab the Free Transformational Toolbox to get even more insights and tools to help your child.