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Do you know your child’s model of the world?

Have you ever been in the situation where you don’t understand what you’re expected to do? Someone has explained something to you briefly and you know you need to carry out a task but you don’t actually know what it is?

What did you do?

What would you do if you were 9 years old?

What would you do if you were 9 years old and in front of a crowd of over 100 people?

A couple of weeks ago I went to a county show, a lovely sunny day out with close friends. We spent the day wandering round stalls, eating, drinking and soaking up the sunshine. Then we settled to watch the arena events. We saw ducks being rounded up into pens, agile teenagers skateboarding behind ponies and one of the local agility groups showing us what their dogs could and (on occasion) couldn’t do. The final display involved a hawk and dog, a demonstration of how the 2 work together to flush out their prey. They obviously (and to my great relief) didn’t use live prey, instead employing the services of a tatty piece of material and a line

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 16.34.12 of rope.

To increase the interest in the demonstration, the handlers asked for a child from the audience to enter the arena and help. The owner of the hawk was not what I’d call a warm person but I understand not everyone feels warm and fuzzy towards children. He then requested the young boy (Tom) hold the rope and when he shouted ‘bang’ Tom should run with the rope pulling it across the floor.

Tom took the rope tentatively and when he heard ‘bang’ a few moments later he began to run as fast as his legs would carry him. ‘no, no, no’ the hawk owners voice blasted across the loud speakers. Tom paused. ‘You don’t run off like that, that’s just stupid, how can the bird catch you. Come back and do it again!’ Tom shyly wandered back to his starting position.


This time Tom ran a little slower and the moment he saw the bird approach he stopped dead still and dropped the rope.

What are you doing?’ screeched the bird handler. ‘Are you stupid? Are you some kind of idiot? You’re supposed to keep running until the bird catches up with you.

Tom looked mortified. Myself, my friends and many other members of the audience couldn’t believe what we were hearing. I spend many hours working with children and parents to increase the confidence of our future generation, only to hear people like this tell them they’re ‘idiots’ or ‘stupid’. I don’t know how Tom actually felt after this experience but I do know that if it was a 9 year old me in that situation, I would not have wanted to put myself forward for anything in the future.

Why am I telling you this story? After the event, I spent some time evaluating what had happened and what could have been done differently. In order to review this objectively I turned as always to my training in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming).

A number of beliefs form the foundation of NLP, know as Presuppositions. They are general principles that create the backbone of NLP and are a fantastic foundation on which to base our actions.

2 specific NLP presuppositions came to mind:

  • Everyone has a different model of the world and we should respect each others’ model.
  • The meaning of our communication is the result we get.

Everyone has a different model of the world and we should respect each others’ model

Our beliefs, experiences and language are a few of the things which shape our understanding of the world around us, this creates our own personal map or model of the world. As you can imagine, a child, with a lot less experience has a very different model from a grandparent who has many life experiences under their belt.

Had this man given any consideration to this young boy’s model? Had he thought how it might feel to come into an arena surrounded by hundreds of people for the first time? Or what thoughts might be running through his head as a huge bird of prey chases him? I’m guessing not. If he had, he may have done the following:

  1. Introduced Tom to the bird to ensure he felt comfortable.
  2. Taken the time to help Tom felt at ease in front of the large audience.
  3. Explained why they were doing this activity and the outcome he expected.
  4. Explained what he expected Tom to do, in detail. Including details on where he wanted him to run, how fast he wanted him to run and at what point he was expected to stop.
  5. Carried out a demonstration so it’s clear exactly what should happen, after all, we’re not all great at remembering verbal instructions.

The meaning of our communication is the response we get.

Basically, if we communicate poorly then we will get a poor response. Had the time been taken to give clear instructions, I’m sure the Tom would have done everything in his power to follow them. I’m sure he wanted to do a great job in front of this parents, the ‘bird man’ and the hundreds of people watching. If we want someone to be able to to a great job of a task we must communicate exactly what we want and give as much detail as they need to carry it out.

My purpose in telling you this story is to highlight how easy it is when we get stuck in our own view of the world to forget how others perceive things. It can be very easy, especially when in a hurry to forget the perception of our children, how much more limited their experience is and how any previous experiences may be clouding their judgement on their capabilities. Next time you want them to carry out an action, think about how much information they need to fill the gaps of their experience. Also remember that your communication is the response you get. Provide them with as much relevant information as possible and check their understanding to ensure they’re set for success.

If you don’t want to end up like ‘bird man’, these 2 simple actions can ensure your children not only carry out their task with success, they will also gain confidence in their capabilities with each successful action.

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