Let’s Talk About Snakes
By Tina Feigal Copyright © 2012
The approach of Halloween got me thinking about snakes. They are such powerful creatures in the lives of adults and children alike. They look dangerous or innocent, according to the observer’s perspective. But for most people, danger is the default feeling when we see a snake.
I’m using snakes here to explain why parents and other adults often see the negative in their children, and have a hard time seeing the positive. Primitive men and women (and in some cultures, contemporary people, too) often saw someone on the path in front of them dramatically felled by a snake bite. This programmed their minds to look vigilantly toward the ground, purely as a survival tactic. Our brain stems held on to this information, and strongly encouraged us to look down, down, down. People wanted so badly to survive that they stayed focused on the ground.
Today, though, we don’t have such intense survival threats. But our brains forgot to adjust to the lowered threat, and our minds still head south to the perceived danger. Intense child behavior can be interpreted as a danger, as well, so parents keep their eyes on the negative, to assure their emotional survival when dealing with their children. They think: “If I stay focused on it, maybe it won’t hurt me as it has in the past.” Perfectly understandable.
But when we keep focused on the negative (often long after the danger has passed) we run the risk of infusing negative messages into the child’s heart. Those messages run strong neural pathways to the brain with the thought: “I’m not a good kid. I can’t do the right thing.” The more the brain receives these messages, the stronger the neural pathways become, and the more the negative behavior is reinforced.
So how do we break out of the “looking down” habit? How do adults forget about the snakes and start looking at the sky instead? It’s not easy for some. The danger associated with negative behavior has felt so strong and the need to protect oneself is compelling. But I am proposing that everyone, even those who have been beaten up by negative behavior, figuratively or literally, start to consider looking at the sky.
Because a child is not a snake. A child can change his or her urge to attack in a way that a snake cannot. If you start to see the positive in your child’s behavior, attitudes, and words, you will quickly see that your actions influence him or her for the better. Say, “When you treat your brother so nicely, I feel such peace, because it shows me how kind you can be to others.” You’ll notice that the attacks are not nearly as frequent or severe. The words start to soften. The attitude improves. The snake, the danger, simply decreases in its power. And by seeing the good in your child, even a little, you have started to cause this change.
Look at your child’s sky, and see the potential for bright sunlight there. Watch the snakes go, and the sky start to glow.
For parent coaching to help you see the sky, click here.