“How many times do I have to tell you?”

“What am I ever going to do with you?”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“Don’t you ever listen?”

Imagine yourself to be a young child listening to your parents repeatedly ask you questions like these.  … If you stop for a few moments, listen to these words inside your head, and experience what it feels like, you will have a clear picture of what far too many children feel every day.

But what’s even worse than the momentary hurt you probably felt as a child are the beliefs that you probably formed if your parents used words like this day after day, year after year. You’d probably conclude: There’s something wrong with me.  I’m not good enough.  I’m not capable. Mistakes and failure are bad.

As parents we would be horrified to discover that many of our conversations with our children result in these beliefs.  Nonetheless, speaking to them this way has a significant negative impact on them, not the least of which is a negative sense of themselves due to low self-esteem.

For over 25 years we have been working with people who’ve had a wide variety of dysfunctional behavioral or emotional patterns.  Some were relatively minor, such as the inability to express feelings, procrastination, and obsessing about what others thought about them. Some were serious, such as eating disorders, chronic depression or anxiety, and phobias.  We’ve helped these people with the Lefkoe Belief Process® (LBP), a technique I developed that allows people to quickly and permanently eliminate the specific beliefs that are responsible for any undesirable behavior or feeling.  When the beliefs disappear, the patterns do also.  (To use the LBP to eliminate one negative self-esteem belief without charge, go to: http://www.recreateyourlife.com.)

In session after session, hour after hour, we have heard thousands of clients describe the experiences they had with their parents, most of whom loved their children and meant well, that led the clients to form the beliefs they were trying to eliminate: “My mom and dad always did …, they never did …, they always said …, they never said ….”

In the parenting e-Book my wife Shelly and I co-wrote, Guide to Effective Parenting, we explain in detail how what parents do and don’t do, say and don’t say, provide their children with the experiences that the children interpret into beliefs.  Those beliefs, in turn, then determine their behavior and emotions and, ultimately, their lives—for better or for worse.  (For information about this e-Book, go to http://www.lefkoeinstitute.com/parenting-ebook.html.)

Shelly and I have read numerous books on parenting and have taught countless parenting workshops.  Nonetheless, we still found ourselves doing some things that were interpreted negatively by our two girls when they were younger.  But we finally got in the habit of asking ourselves the question after we interacted with our children: What has my child just concluded?  When we think the answer is “probably something negative,” we go back to our children to apologize and reopen the discussion.

As an example, one day when our daughter Brittany was about five years old (she’s now 21!) Shelly went into the bathroom before bedtime to brush Brittany’s teeth.  Our daughter flatly refused, being the independent young lady that she is.  After all of Shelly’s parenting skills and tools failed, she found herself physically overpowering our daughter with one arm around her neck and one hand with the toothbrush in her mouth.  After a few moments she regained her sanity and realized what she was doing.  She stopped immediately and apologized to Brittany.

Shelly realized that, as important as brushing Brittany’s teeth was, far more important was what our daughter would conclude about herself and life out of that interaction if repeated consistently.  A couple of possibilities include: I’m powerless or What I want doesn’t matter. (Rarely do just a few experiences lead to negative beliefs.  A number of experiences usually are required before we reach specific negative conclusions about ourselves and life.)

How can we get our children to do what needs to be done (teeth that don’t get brushed do get cavities) without them forming negative beliefs about themselves?  Knowing how to interact with our children in a way that facilitates a healthy self-esteem and a positive sense of life is not self-evident. There are many books and courses that provide excellent skills and tools.  One of the best techniques is to ask your children what to do and give them a choice. When Brittany didn’t want to go to the bathroom to brush her teeth, we learned to ask her how she’d like to go—with Shelly leading a parade and her following (you should have seen Shelly as a drum major!), with her in my arms or on my back, or did she want to meet me there in five minutes?

Most of us think we are successful parents if we get our children to behave properly, to learn what we think they need to learn, and to be happy. The question we suggest you ask yourself is: At what cost? If you succeed in achieving what you want for your children, but they form negative self-esteem beliefs, such as, I’m not good enough or I’m not worthwhile, or negative beliefs about life, such as, Life’s difficult or I’ll never get what I want, was your behavior really “successful”?  In other words, are the benefits you achieved short term with your children worth the long-term cost?

I am not saying that our children’s behavior on a daily basis, the information they acquire from us, and their happiness are not important.  Of course they are.  What I’m saying is that the single factor that has the greatest impact on whether or not your children achieve true happiness and satisfaction in life is a healthy self-esteem and a positive sense of life.  Nothing we do, learn or feel when we’re young will have as much influence on our adult life as the fundamental beliefs we form and take into adulthood.

To make this real, let’s assume that your children have one of the two following sets of beliefs: I’m not good enough; There’s something wrong with me; I’m not deserving; I’m not loveable; I don’t matter—or: I am good enough; I’m worthwhile just because I am, not for any reason; I’m loveable; I matter.

Which set of beliefs would most likely lead to anxiety and depression? To substance abuse? To teenage pregnancy? To eating disorders? To satisfying relationships? To a productive career?  To a truly satisfying life?

Given the critical importance of beliefs, what should be the primary role of parents?  Influencing behavior?  Teaching information?  Making their children happy?—or assisting their children to form positive beliefs about themselves and life?

If you chose the latter, the best way I know of to insure that you are getting your job as a parent done is constantly to ask yourself the question: What are my children likely to conclude about themselves and life as a result of this interaction we just had?  If it is a negative decision, go back, apologize and clean it up.  If it is a positive decision, congratulations!  You got your job done.

P.S.  Several of you wrote and said I never finished the story about my argument with Shelly in my post last week.  So here the end of the story: As soon as I realized that my upset really had nothing to do with her, and was the result of conditioning, I told her that, apologized for getting upset at her and withdrawing, and that was the end of it. We actually have a game when we have an argument: Who can “get off it” the fastest.  More and more often I don’t get hooked at all so I don’t even have to get off it, because I never get on it.

If you haven’t yet eliminated at least one of your limiting self-esteem beliefs using the Lefkoe Belief Process, go to htp://www.recreateyourlife.com/free where you can eliminate one limiting belief free.

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