An interview with Sarah McCrum, director of the Academy of Potential Education
Jimmy Allen: If you were to give parents a simple and quick piece of advice to help with stress management and improving their children's behavior, what would that be?
Sarah McCrum: Well, I once met a parenting consultant who showed me something I have never forgotten. He said to me 'Don't think about pink elephants'. Of course I immediately started to think about pink elephants.
Jimmy Allen: Ya, I just did.
Sarah McCrum: Exactly. If you say to anyone, including children, 'Don't do that', the message they get is to do it. You focus all their attention on exactly the activity you want them to stop.
When you are tense and nervous as a parent your general language is 'Don't do that'. 'Please don't do that to me.' 'Please don't do that any more'. You can find yourself begging, pleading, hoping or shouting but the fundamental message behind everything you say is 'Don't'. So of course children do it more and more.
When you are relaxed and happy you naturally feel more open and positive and your message naturally becomes 'Do this' or 'Let's do this together' and you transmit a positive message to the child. You focus his or her attention on what you want them to do, rather than what you don't want them to do. You effectively invite children to do something specific so they forget everything else, including the activity you don't want them to do any more. This is a very powerful change.
Jimmy Allen: There's a lot of books and parenting approaches that suggest to out smart their children and carefully choose more appropriate words, but I've watched many parents trying that and it only seems to work temporarily, or should I say superficially.
Sarah McCrum: It is possible to train yourself to talk the right way so children listen to you more. With practice it will have an effect. However this highly conscious approach is slow to affect the root of the problem. You talk negatively because you feel negative. It is this negative feeling that most directly affects the child. A negative feeling creates negative energy. When the energy is negative the message is confused. It becomes scrambled and children are literally unable to react.
The simpler way to turn the situation around is for the parents to learn to relax. When you are relaxed you are naturally positive, from the inside. I have seen parents who start to learn relaxation transforming their relationships with their children. They come back with shining eyes saying their children are completely different. In behavioral situations that were highly challenging before, for example eating candy, not going to bed, being too noisy, the problem seems to melt away and children become naturally willing to do whatever they want them to do.
It is amazing that something so small and simple as taking 10 or 20 minutes to sit and do nothing and clear your mind, can have such a powerful effect that can last all day. When you are positive your energy is positive. When you speak your message is clear and children react naturally to that.
Jimmy: That sounds so easy and it seems like doing that would save a lot of time and effort.
Sarah McCrum: Yes, and the irony is that the people who most need relaxation are the people who feel they have the least time. But if you invest a little time for relaxation you gain much more time in return. The principle is the same as investing money. If you put some money into a wise investment you get more money out. If you put it into the wrong investment you lose money. Similarly if you put time into the wrong investment, such as being nervous, angry and negative you will lose more and more time. However if you invest time into a wise activity, such as relaxation, you get much more time out of it.
When you have stress and are tense, time seems to go against you and there is never enough of it. When you relax time begins to stretch in your favor and it is surprising just how much can be achieved and how many people want to help you, including your children. So one simple and easy piece of advice for parents is to really learn how to improve their ability to relax. Relaxation is the best form of stress management.
By Sarah McCrum MA, PGCE, Dip LC
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