Today I was listening to a podcast on brain function that led to a Huge aha moment for me as a parent.
I learned that children before age 7 are predominantly in a theta brain state. This is the hyper-suggestible state that is used in hypnosis, one of the few ways to override the subconscious brain’s programs and incorporate new instinctive ways of being in the world.
The implications of this are enormous. The reason we “turn into our parents” when we grow up is because our brains have downloaded their words to us and to themselves and made them our own.
It follows that we can consciously create our children’s internal dialogues. We can plant the seeds of a healthy self esteem and positive outlook that cycle through their subconscious minds.
The steps we can take to make this happen are:
1. Seeding our children with positive statements about who they are
2. Practicing and vocalizing our own positive statements about ourselves
3. Demonstrating our belief in those statements by acting as if they’re true.
Let’s break these down a bit.
1. Seeding our children with positive statements about who they are. Affirmations, or positive belief statements, have been shown to be effective when they’re repeated in a theta brain state. So you have a huge window in the years especially between age 2-5 when kids are entirely in theta, and up until age 7 when that’s their predominant state.
It’s crucial that the affirmations are unlimited statements that affirm who your child is rather than what your child did. Why? Affirming what they did sets them up in a cycle of needing to perform in order to feel good about themselves. There’s much to say about this form of limited praise (which is actually judgement), but I’ll just refer those who are curious about it to the best resource on the topic: Unconditional Parenting (affiliate link).
The best unconditional affirmations I’ve found that you can use with your kids are copied below, excerpted from here: http://www.positive-parents.org/2014/01/nourish-your-childs-mind-with-positive.html
You are valuable to us.
You are so loved.
You are going to do great things in this world.
I’m so happy to have you.
We are lucky to have you in our family.
I will always love you, no matter what.
You can do anything you set your mind to.
The world is a better place because you’re in it.
Your smile lights up my whole day.
I love to hear you laugh.
Your brother/sister is blessed to have you.
Your kindness and compassion amaze me.
You are a wonderful person.
2. Practicing and vocalizing our own positive statements about ourselves. How often do we make negative statements about ourselves (I’m so stupid) our bodies (I’m so fat) or even our partners (Why don’t you ever listen) in front of our children? These all get downloaded into our childrens’ brains, too. The most effective way we can shift our negative self-talk is by shifting our internal dialogue, which we can do when we’re in the hyper-suggestible theta state, just before we go to sleep. We can find affirmations that resonate with us and record them to play back just before sleep, or we can find programs that do this for us. One free resource that I plan on trying out is this affirmation meditation from Louise Hay, available as an iphone app.
3. Demonstrating our belief in those statements by acting as if they’re true. Affirmations have been shown to be effective only when they’re believable. For kids, this means that your behavior must back up your talk. When using affirmations on your kids, it is helpful to ask yourself “how would I behave if this were true” for any given affirmation. For example, if you’re saying “You can do anything you put your mind to” then you’re likely to let your child take risks and figure things out on his own rather than taking over when he’s in the middle of a difficult project. I’d recommend doing this step through journaling, so that you can really play out the scenario and it’ll be easier to walk your talk in the moment.
I’ll be reporting back on my experiences using these steps, and I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences below!
Miriam J. Katz is co-author of The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year, where you can find a guide to safe co-sleeping and other fun tools. Miriam is an intuitive life coach whose passion is to help others overcome obstacles to living their life purpose. She lives in Boston with her husband and two children.