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to an Ecology of Parenting
“An exceptional life begins with exceptional influences.”
My wife and I were going to bring a child into our lives. And I knew,
intuitively, that unless I did something about certain limiting beliefs
that I had...
• That children should believe what I believe.
• That children should be well behaved.
• That children should do the ‘right’ thing.
• That children should learn independence.
• That parents raise or mould children to be; responsible, good, law abiding,
hard working, caring, sharing...
• That life should be first and foremost both comfortable and convenient.
• That I am someone or should be someone, for example; ‘a good parent’.
...then my influence would be such that our child would have less than
intelligent, artistic, ecological behaviours to emulate. I would be influencing
my child to limit the range of alternatives and possible behaviours from
which she could choose to have and create the experiences that she wanted.
And I knew that the reasons for relating to children with these
beliefs were about making my life convenient and comfortable... in a word,
easy. By influencing my child with these beliefs I would be demanding
my child learn ‘what’ to think and ‘what’ to do.
I knew that as a parent my behaviour would be a significant influence
in our child’s life. This is a given, an inescapable part of life.
For my influence to be exceptional I would need to learn and apply
the essential processes for expanding my own limited model of the world
to move beyond those limiting beliefs. This CHOICE to reduce those
constraints while expanding my repertoire of skills, behaviours that our
child could model, defines ‘an ecology of parenting’. And, indeed,
I was to discover that it would be impossible to care for our child, or
anyone for that matter, without first making this choice.
But what, you might ask, is so different about ‘what’ to think and ‘how’
to think? “What to think” is a limited way of thinking in that it is predetermined.
For example, “Children should share.” The potential consequences
of such limited ways of thinking include so called mental/emotional (psychological)
problems that lead to relationship problems and poor health. Parents
who tell their children ‘what’ to think are themselves limited in their
own thinking. They do not have the necessary resources to move beyond
their own perceived limitations and so naturally that is all that they
have to give their children.
“How to think” is ‘thinking about’ what we are doing and what we want
to do. Using the previous example to illustrate the difference;
Sharing - “What is my intention for sharing or not sharing, in some particular
context, and what are the potential consequences of sharing or not sharing
in that context?” So sharing and not sharing are options that a
child can add to the range of behaviours from which he or she can choose.
The potential benefits of thinking about what we think and do include
health, well-being, creativity, and enjoyable relationships.
Of course, there is always more to learn and a child free of limiting
beliefs provides the welcome challenge of ‘necessary inconvenience’ for
parents who want to learn ‘how’ to move beyond constraints that have been
imposed upon them throughout their lives. That is, we do not learn
if we are not challenged... and what could be more challenging than a
child’s behaviour? Capriciousness, anyone?
For me, an essential part of developing an ‘ecology of parenting’ was
to discover what my intentions were for having a child, “What is the purpose
of bringing a child into my life?”, and whether my intentions were congruent
with my desire to influence our child in exceptional ways. To my
surprise, they were not. So I set out to make changes in my thinking in
terms of how to relate to children and, after addressing the limiting
beliefs already mentioned, my intentions for having a child evolved into
1. To have fun.
2. For the ‘Necessary Inconvenience’ (Uncertainty) to challenge my own
limiting beliefs to learn ‘how’ to move past them... to learn flexibility
3. To contribute to the community both mental and physical resources.
4. Adding difference. Difference is essential for creativity both biological
From these intentions I determined that my role as a parent would be twofold;
1. To Manipulate contexts where children can learn, in relative safety,
by playing* and constructing games (This also happens to be the role of
teacher). * Play is a combination of exploration, discovery, and manipulation,
of the physical world and the world of ideas, all of which are essential
elements of learning.
2. To demonstrate (model) exceptional and congruent behaviour.
The essence of parenting then, the ‘art’ of parenting, is relating to
children in such a way that my influence encourages them to learn ‘how’
to think so that they can choose ‘what’ to think for themselves. Then,
and only then, can our children CHOOSE to live life as they want, and
to do what has up until now been a most rare phenomenon; think creatively
and ecologically to experience the sensory delights that life has to offer.
And, for those of us who have been constrained by beliefs imposed upon
us by our parents, siblings and our society, it does take some training
to learn the necessary processes for freeing ourselves from those limiting
beliefs. The processes are simple to learn... but very challenging
to apply to ourselves as our society has not been supportive of those
who would break away from such constraints.
For many the belief that people should behave in certain ways is the only
way to ensure a safe community with people who obey the rules and are
nice to each other. Indeed, it seems that ‘controlling’ children
to be good boys and girls, responsible citizens, is very important to
many parents. And yet it is this type of thinking that has influenced
the very degradation and fragmentation of our society that the media report
to us every day. When any individual is constrained, when any group
of people are constrained, historically the result has been ‘rebellious’
behaviour in one form or another. It is the recognition, at the
unconscious level, that such artificial constraints are the antithesis
of life and creativity, and invariably the unconscious of an individual
will find a way to break free whether it be through artistic expression,
mental (emotional) breakdown, violence, or suicide. A coherent culture,
a society whose individuals ‘choose’ to co-operate, cannot be forced.
You cannot control the internal processes, thinking processes, of another,
that is, you cannot make another person think as you would want them to.
Only when an individual is free to explore all possibilities, all alternatives,
will we have the necessary conditions for the emergence of a coherent
Some parents already know this intuitively. They know that the way
they have been relating to their children has been more or less constrained
and that such influence is less than conducive to encouraging children
to think freely. Notice how many times you have made the same mistakes
in relation to children and each time telling yourself that you're not
going to do that again. Such repetitive behaviour tells us that we lack
the skills to learn from our mistakes, that is, we have not yet learned
‘how’ to think about ‘what’ we have learned to think and do.
And these same parents know that their intuition knows only what it knows...
and to move beyond those beliefs that have limited them, limited their
ability to relate to themselves and their children in creative, artistic,
and ecological ways, requires training. It requires learning not
only how to improve the way they relate to their unconscious (the intuitive
aspect of mind), it also requires learning how to learn.
We can only give our children what we have. Everything that we have in
our lives is the result of ‘how’ we relate to ourselves and others. And
everything that we want but do not have, and do not know how to get, is
also the result of ‘how’ we relate to ourselves and others. And this is
what we give to our children; ‘how’ we relate. If we truly want to improve
ourselves, and have more ‘choice’ and freedom in our lives, then congruent
with such changes would be a change in the way that we relate to our children,
that is, the way that we relate to them would influence them to live their
lives as they want.
You see, we are each an element within a system. We are, each and
every one of us, interdependent. We can manipulate contexts and we can
change ourselves... that is all.
With a little training in Neuro Linguistic Parenting, and lots of practise,
parenting can be a most rewarding experience; the ultimate proving ground
for self development, the place where we can learn to live again.....
and the place where we can learn to care.
All the best,
Grad.Cert.NLP, Practitioner of Process Oriented Coaching.
Trainer - Developing Emotional Intelligence
- "neuro-linguistic programming: Liberating Parents"
by Keith Gilbert
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