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The Power Illusions: How You Are Verbally Crippling Your Children

By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller


"Stop annoying me."
"Don't make me come up there."
"That made her feel bad."
"Be careful or you'll upset your father."
"Your whining is driving me crazy."
"Don't let me down now."
"You really know how to ruin my good mood."

Do you talk like this? If so, you are teaching your children two life-altering power illusions. These illusions are unconsciously helping them learn and believe negative myths about personal power that could stick with them their entire lives. These falsehoods will not assist them in living happy, productive, fulfilling lives. Not today, not tomorrow, not anytime in the future.

Power Illusion #1

The style of Parent Talk above assigns an unhealthy and inaccurate amount of power to children. Whether your child is two, eight, or fifteen, do you really want to give them the power to ruin your mood? Do you want them to believe they can drive you crazy? If they are the ones who upset their father, do they not have more power than the parent?

This unhealthy way of speaking diminishes your own personal power and allows your child to be in control of your responses to their behavior. It is not healthy for you or your child when you use language patterns that designate them as the person in charge of your mood, level of irritation, annoyance, frustration, happiness, anger, or any other reaction. If you allow your child to be in control of your happiness, joy, responsibility, emotional, and mental health as well as your level of personal power, it is not the child that needs fixing.

Power Illusion #2

A second harmful effect of using language that gives your power away to your children is that it encourages them to give their power away in a similar fashion. They begin to believe that someone else can hurt their feelings, make them mad, create jealousy in them, or annoy them.

In reality, no one can hurt your child's feelings without their permission. True, others can manifest some cruel behaviors. Yet, your child's response of feeling hurt is their response. It is a response that doesn’t have to follow. No one can anger or irritate your child. Others do not have the power to do that unless your child gives their power away the same way they have been taught by you to do so.

No one can frustrate your child. Their frustration, annoyance or irritation comes from the way they interpret the situation before them. The thoughts they choose to think or the beliefs they activate are the real cause of their frustration.

What reality do you want for your children? Do you want them to believe others have the power to frustrate, anger, annoy, or irritate them or ruin their day? If so, then keep saying things like "That traffic jam really frustrates me" or "You're going to make me mad." Eventually they will internalize a core belief that other people or situations can make them feel certain ways. There is no personal power in that belief.

If you want to help your children learn self-responsible language patterns, it is necessary to begin with yourself.

1. Become increasingly aware of your own unself-responsible language. Notice when you make statements like the examples above or those below.

"You're going to embarrass me."
"You make me want to hug you."
"Sunny days pick me up."
"You are really ticking me off right now."
"You have me all tied up in knots."

2. Change your unself-responsible language to self-responsible language by using "I" statements.
Say "I feel annoyed" rather than “You are annoying me.”

"I feel like I'm going crazy" owns your feeling. "You're driving me crazy" does not.

3. Begin your sentence with "I'm choosing . . ."

"I am choosing annoyance" models personal power. "You are annoying me" gives your power away.

"I am choosing confusion right now" communicates that you are in charge of your feelings. "You're confusing me" tells others they are in charge of your confusion level.

4. Practice. Practice. Practice. Using self-responsible language might sound awkward at first. Many of us are not used to hearing people talk in ways that maintain personal power. Keep on talking. Eventually, it will begin to sound normal.

When your children say things like "Mom, how come you're talking funny?" or "You sound different, Dad. Why are you talking that way?" know you are on the right track. Persevere.

When you hear one of your children say, "Mom, I'm ok. I'm just doing irritation right now," pat yourself on the back. Celebrate if your child asks you why you are choosing to be in a bad mood. Jump up and down with joy if your child corrects your language by saying, "Dad, don't you really mean you are creating nervousness for yourself right now? You told us nothing has the power to make us nervous."

Bust the power illusions being created in your family by changing your language patterns with the techniques listed above. As you do, you will see those illusions having less influence over the lives of your children. Enjoy the benefits that result from your entire family living with the reality that each of you is responsible for your own feelings. No one can "make us."

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