Martin was a gorgeous 7-year-old who came to me for child coaching. His mom called and said she felt she could not help him. He never had a good day. He did not even know what one looked like.
After an abusive relationship with her husband, she divorced him and moved away to start a new life. They had been living in a nice place and their life changed dramatically.
For the first six months after they divorced, Martin’s mom insisted on taking him to see his dad, but his dad did not show up. When his dad did show up, he was angry and aggressive and Martin refused to spend time with him.
Since his dad did not care whether he came or not, his mom decided to stop putting pressure on them to see each other. “Martin is way better than before. He used to cry and have nightmares, but it’s much better now”, she said.
Still, six months passed and Martin was angry, negative and grumpy and life was tough on him. He never smiled, the whole world was bad, it is everyone else’s fault and every tiny thing made him blow up with anger and throw temper tantrums. After years of abuse, Martin’s mom told me she needed help, because she felt she was losing her son.
If I were a wizard
When I met him the first time, I asked him to play a game called “If I were a wizard”. This is a game I play with kids to find out the strength of their “wanting muscle”. You see, wanting is what charges our batteries.
If we want nothing, our batteries are empty and there is no reason to do things. Without “wants”, there is no reason to get up in the morning, no reason to succeed, no reason to be friendly, no reason to be healthy, no reason to try and no reason to care. Without desires, we feel empty, we lack direction and we browse through life aimlessly.
Martin’s wanting muscle was so weak that everything I asked him, he answered with “I don’t know”. I gave him many options, like “What would you buy yourself?” or “If you were a super hero, what kind of a hero would you be?” or ” If you could have anything in the world, what would that be?” or “If you didn’t have to go to school, what would you do?”
He answered all these questions with “I don’t know”. And I believed him. I could see he really did not know!
After about 10 minutes, he finally said, “Maybe I would buy myself an ice block (popsicle) … maybe a console for my PlayStation”.
Martin had not gotten what he wanted for so long, he had concluded it was less painful not to want. Martin was just a normal kid. We all do that. When our needs, wants and desires are not met, we give up on wanting and expect nothing.
Since his mom had to use his wants as the motivating tool and he did not want anything, no wonder she felt helpless and could not find ways to motivate him.
When I asked him if there was anything in his life he liked, anything that made him happy or anything he appreciated (using many different games and questions), he replied, “No”. Sometimes, he thought about it for a while, and then still answered, “No”.
“Did anything nice happen at school today?”
Of course. Without wanting anything, no wonder he could not recognize any good things in his life.
I tried to change my questions to get him to say “yes”.
“Are you happy that you live with mom now in a different house?”
He shrugged his shoulders and hummed, but didn’t say, “Yes”.
Happy? What is that!?
I asked him to give me three good things that happened to him that week. He had none at all. I gave him time. I gave him suggestions. Nothing worked. Even when I told him to bring up a good memory from any time in the past, he could not. Martin’s mom came back in the last 15 minutes of our session and witnessed his struggle to find a good memory.
So I used an NLP trick that anchors his thoughts of good things with something he liked to eat, drink or do.
Martin chose “chocolate drink” as a good memory. I told him that his memories were playing “hide and seek” and he needed to find them. I used a special breathing technique and guided NLP, visualizing the chocolate drink going to every place in his brain in search of a good memory. I connected his chocolate drink to his “hide and seek” memory game.
Within a minute, he remembered he had gotten 10 out of 10 on his math exam that day. In the second round, I said “hot chocolate” by mistake and he corrected me, “Ronit, it’s not hot chocolate. It’s cold chocolate drink”, and straight away remembered he liked baking and had a good memory of decorating his birthday cake on Saturday, just before our session. When he found the third pleasant memory, after taking another deep breath, he was smiling.
On the way out, his mom said, she had not seen him smile for a long time.
I told Martin that his homework was to play this game every day when he came back from school. I asked his mom to ask him for three good things that happened to him that day and if he cannot remember, to ask him to close his eyes, think of his chocolate drink and play “hide and seek” in his memory.
I explained to her that after three days, his brain (with a function called the Reticular Activating System or RAS) would search for the good things during the day, knowing she would ask him to find three things at the end of the day. Within three days, the brain already prepares the answers through what we call “focus”.
I saw Martin again the following week. When he came in, he had a smile on his little face and he said goodbye to his mom at the door (the first time, he asked her to come in and she only left after 3 minutes).
On the way to our table, I asked him to tell me three things that happened to him that day. He told me three things straight away. During the session, he was very cooperative, told me stories, whistled and hummed while he worked.
At the end of the session, his mom came to sit with us for the last 15 minutes. I worked with Martin on his Brain Gym activities. He was happy and laughed aloud.
His mom told me that they played the game every night and even ran this competition to see who had more good memories every day. She said she made herself search for seven things and noticed she felt better about herself as well.
On the way out, when Martin was on the trampoline, she said he had been so positive the last week and had not complained or been upset or grumpy as much.
Simple. One game, one week, and a different child with a different path in life!
Martin changed from being a child who thinks his life is not good to a child who finds good things in every day of his life.
If your child is grumpy and upset a lot (or maybe you are), I suggest you stop focusing on the reasons for this. Martin had all the reasons in the world to feel the way he felt and having a reason only gave him permission to be angry, grumpy, negative and without hope.
Focus on moving forward. If something happened in the past that caused you pain, think about the future. Do not live and re-live the past.
Remembering three good things that happened to you throughout the day is the simplest way to move forward and see good even in little things. After three weeks of doing it, your brain will be trained to search for good things and it will find them.
Unlike lottery, this strategy guarantees winning…
This post is part of the series From the Life Coaching Deck:
- If-then Parenting Style
- How to Help Your Kid Drive
- The Meaning of Life
- Hyperactive Kids
- Secret Demons
- Making Money Addiction
- Art Fights Depression
- Trust Your Healing Powers
- The Want Muscle
- Abusive Parenting Cycle
- Learning to Want
- Don’t Put Labels on Kids
- Stop Making More Money
- There Are No Hopeless Teens
- How to Have a Good Day Everyday
- No More Disappointment: The Biggest Loser Leads the Dance
- Choosing the Right Career Path for Your Kids