Research Paper By Jette Vincent
(Parent Coach, THAILAND)
Can NLP be beneficial in parent coaching?
The purpose of this research paper is to look at whether NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming)can be beneficial in parent coaching. I will first introduce the reader to what ‘parent coaching’ means to me and explain shortly what NLP is before exploring some key components of NLP and how they can be used in coaching with parents.
What is parent coaching?
“It is difficult to understand children nowadays…” is a phrase I hear often and can be a reason for contacting a parent coach. I believe that all generations have their difficulties understanding children for the simple reason that we as grown-ups forget what it entails to be children. Therefore, we may seek parent coaching because we do not understand our own or our children’s behaviours and responses. This can sometimes come with an underlying belief that there is something wrong with the children, because if they would just listen and behave differently then surely everything would be fine!
Parent coaching is coaching that helps and support parents in becoming aware of who they are and who they want to be as parents. Do parents’ visions of themselves as parents align with their actions and everyday parenting? How does world views, patterns, traditions, and culture influence how they parent? Parent coaching also strives to support parents to make changes if they find this to be beneficial for them as parents. Parent coaching focuses on the parents, how they see themselves and how they are as parents, with everything that entails, and how this influences their parenting role.
What is NLP?
NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming. It was created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the 1970s. They believe that there is a connection between neurological processes (Neuro), the way we use language (Linguistic) and our behavioural patterns learned through experiences (Programming). In other words, Neuro is the physical as well as the mental and emotional components of our neurology. Language is the language that we use and how we use it in communication with others and, just as importantly, with ourselves. Programming is the way our past experiences, thoughts and emotions affects all areas of our lives. NLP draw parallels between our behaviour, our thinking, and the language we use which will subsequently affect our actions and therefore also our experience. A change in either behaviour, language or thought patterns will affect the others and can lead to a change in actions and hence experiences.
What are the key components of NLP?
There are talks about 5 key principles of success within NLP coaching. These include:
- Know your outcome.
- Take action.
- Have sensory acuity.
- Have behavioural flexibility.
- Operate from a physiology and psychology of excellence.
Whereas these principles are beneficial and certainly have a place in parent coaching, I have in this assignment chosen to look at the following NLP tools or principles that may also have a positive impact on and hence seek to answer the question “Can NLP be beneficial in parent coaching?”. These principles are:
- Communication model
- Content reframing
- Belief change
- Behavioural flexibility
Rapport in an emotional connection between people where there is acceptance and openness. In NLP building rapport is the process of establishing that connection and focuses on being ‘like’ or ‘similar’ to the person we are establishing rapport with.
The NLP communication model explains how the information we get from the outside get processed on the inside and how this affects our emotional state.
Dissociation is when you feel you are removed from an experience and are watching, listening or observing an event from the outside.
This is a visualization technique that encourages you to approach a situation differently by thinking about it and coming at it from a new angle.
Belief change helps people better understand their beliefs and how their beliefs can have negative implications for their life.
In NLP ‘behavioural flexibility is the ability to vary one’s behaviour or response as opposed to having habitual behaviours and responses.
How can these key components in NLP be used in parent coaching?
I will here highlight how each of these key components can be used and discuss how they could be beneficial in parent coaching.
A set of parents say that they are completely motivated to do something about their difficult parental situation. However, their body language and tone of voice tells the tale of someone who is feeling down beaten about their situation. They approach a parent coach to get help.
Building rapport is the first step in helping to create an accepting environment for the parents. Parents who come to parent coaching may need to explore something they have not had the courage to explore before, not only about their current situation but also about their own memories and feelings. To be able to do this building rapport is crucial in establishing trust. In NLP building rapport operate from the point of view that we feel able to connect to people that are like us and have similar or the same things in common as us. However, the process of creating trust with a set of parents comes from demonstrating these similarities unconsciously. The ‘work’ sits with the coach and should be done without the parents being consciously aware of this. Matching and mirroring are used in NLP to do exactly that. Matching is when the coach does the same thing with their body as what the parents are doing and mirroring is when the coach act as a mirror for the parents. Physiology carries 55 per cent of the importance in communication and matching and mirroring are therefore very important when establishing rapport. It can create a strong sense of familiarity and trust in the coaching relationship.
In a coaching session with parents, the NLP model of communication can be used to examine how the information a client receives from the outside world is being processed and how this influences the communication and reaction to others. More specifically this could be used to examine how communication and reactions between parents and child(ren) unfolds. The communication model states that we use our senses to observe the world, i.e., our visual, audio, kinesthetic, olfactory and gustatory senses. Anything our senses are not able to grasp we are not able to observe because of the neurological limitations of the senses. However, to still being able to make sense of and navigate through our experiences effectively we make use of social and individual constraints.
Being part of a particular society places social constraints on us that have come about via conditioning through our cultures. Among other things, this conditioning shapes our beliefs, values, our behaviour and so on. Individual constraints refer to our skills, strengths, interests, likes, dislikes etc. and set us apart from others within the same culture. Through social and individual constraints, we create certain filters through which we see and make sense of the world. These filters are called Primary Filters and are:
- Generalisations (the process of taking something specific and applying it more broadly, e.g. “I cannot get my child in bed on time therefore I am a bad parent”)
- Deletions (the process by which we selectively pay attention to a certain part of our experiences and not others, e.g., we choose to focus on how our child(ren) seemingly ignores our call for bedtime rather than remembering our role and responsibility in this communication)
- Distortions (the process by which we alter our perceptions so that the interpreted information is in sync with our generalisations or beliefs, e.g., as parents we get our child(ren) in bed on time and feel we were just lucky to make this happen as without luck we would not have been capable of getting our child(ren) to bed)
As a coach is can be very useful to help parents become aware of how their Primary filters affect and influence their communication with their child(ren). This can also help alleviate any negative self-talk parents may have about ‘not being able to do the right thing’ as they are always doing what seem right from their perspective. No more feelings of being a ‘bad parent’ and feeling that you don’t know how to do it right. A parent coach can help parents see this recognition as an acknowledgement that there are things they don’t know, but that they, with the help of a coach, could become aware of. For parents to become consciously aware of what influences their communication can be a first step on the way to make changes. This can also help patients and children (ren) to operate on a more equal footing with regards to interpretations of experiences where there is an understanding of one reality being no righter than another. In NLP all communication partners take 100 per cent responsibility for the communication and this is especially important to remember in communication with children. As parents, we are the role model that our child(ren) learn from.
If parents come to the parent coaching session with specific issues the NLP technique called Dissociationcould be a powerful tool to use.Although this technique is often used with people displaying phobias it may also be helpful for parents to view an issue as an outsider to better observe what is happening within the situation. Parents may be triggered by certain experiences. Maybe the children are not doing what we were expecting. We may notice that we start to feel annoyed or angry with the situation and the child. Dissociation “serves as the link between the negative state of mind and the trigger event”. Being an outside observer of the issue can help parents to realize that the trigger event is not responsible for their feeling of anger and a parent coach can help parents explore where the anger originates from.
Whereas Dissociation can be helpful to remove yourself from an issue and observe it from afar to better understand what is going on, the technique of Content reframing encourages parents to approach a situation from a new or different angle. It is the mental discipline of putting a positive spin on negative events. Negative events can easily lead to a feeling of disempowerment and hopelessness and a sense of events occurring beyond our control. This can be a familiar feeling for parents and lead to a state of ‘giving up. In parent coaching content reframing can be a powerful tool to help parents regain the feeling of being in control of their emotions and hence their responses with their child(ren). A parent coach can help parents see the positive in situations that are otherwise thought of as hopeless and hence help parents ‘reframe’ the ‘content’ in a way that leads to positive self-discovery rather than negative hopelessness. This can lead to more positive interactions between parents and child(ren).
For parents who come to parents coaching and are curious about themselves as parents, it can be powerful to become aware of and change beliefs that are holding them back from achieving their goal as parents. In NLP this is called Belief change. A parent coach can help parents become aware of what kinds of beliefs they have around being a parent. Are these beliefs their own beliefs or beliefs that they unquestioned have taken with them? Do these beliefs serve their family and them as parents or are they beliefs held by other people, e.g., other family members or the wider society? To become aware of beliefs we often need to be challenged and a parents coach can help with this. We naturally go into defence mode when challenged, however, a parents coach can help guide parents through this stage to create clarity and an awareness of how opinions and assumptions, accumulated throughout our life, affect how we think about the parent role. Understanding where beliefs are stemming from makes it easier to go about changing them.
Behavioural flexibility in NLP operates on the notion that if something is not working, then it does not help to do the same thing or adopt the same behaviour again and again and expect a different outcome. Einstein once said the “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. This notion can be useful to be aware of for parents feeling stuck in their parenting role. Behavioural flexibility can help parents become aware of a range of responses to any given stimuli as opposed to responses that have become habitual and therefore limiting and possible even unhelpful. Using powerful questioning a parent coach can help parents move from habitual behaviour to be able to display behavioural flexibility and hence being able to respond more appropriately to different situations.
Can NLP be beneficial in parent coaching?
So, can NLP be beneficial in parent coaching? I think absolutely, yes! It is not necessary to understand the physiological processes behind NLP to take advantage of the attitude and the different techniques that can help parents understand who they are in their parent role. NLP can help parents become curious about themselves and as NLP is not concerned with analysing “why” but rather focuses on “how” people ‘do a problem’ it is “overcoming a problem” oriented and forward-thinking. It is merely helping to the state where you are as a parent rather than pointing a finger at what is not working. NLP techniques can help reinforce that the way parents see themselves and the thoughts they have about themselves are important. This can create curiosity about other possibilities and different choices within the parent role which can increase confidence and improve communication and engagement with yourself and your child(ren).
References Research paper
Bandler, Richard: Guide to trance-formation: Make your life great, 2008
Rosenberg, Marshall B.: Nonviolent Communication, 2015
Dispenza, Dr Joe: Breaking the habit of being yourself, 2012
Perry, Philippa: The book you wish your parents had read, 2019