We’re answering a question today from one of our members (click here to join: https://nlp4kids.org/membership/)
The question is around, unsticking a stuck child.
What do you do when a child or young person says “I can’t do it” and they genuinely feel really stuck, and they cannot move themselves forward?
We’re going to specifically focus on schoolwork and homework.
Getting a child past the idea of being stuck and getting them out of that habit of saying “I can’t do it” is important. When a child’s brain is developing, their brain makes lots of pathways called neural networks in their brain. Over time, as they’re growing up something called neuro pruning occurs.
Neural pruning is when the brain is trimming back some of those neural networks that are not in use.
If you’ve heard of the phrase “use it or lose it”, that’s what’s happening on a neuronal level. If you have a child, for example, who learned a second language, when they were maybe two or three years old and they do not continue to use that language, they won’t have it anymore as they grow up. They will literally just forget it. That’s because the neural networks have got trimmed and pruned away, if there are certain things that you would really like the children in your life to get good at or to become highly skilled at, we need to help them get past the idea of them being stuck.
They need to get back in the motion of doing it as soon as possible so that they don’t convince themselves that they can’t do it and then lose the ability to do it because they spend so long not doing it!
One of the things that I like to do with children when I am working with them is to get ahead of the problem. I anticipate that at some stage they will say they can’t do it (whatever it is) but it’s probably something that’s really important that I’ve asked them to do.
To get ahead of the problem. I do something called ‘the red test’. I get them to look around the room and think to themselves or say to themselves ‘red’ as in the colour red whilst looking around.
I tell them to look for all the red things, notice how many red things they can see and then close their eyes. Then I say, “tell me about the red things that you saw.”
They’ll list it to me because their eyes will have got drawn to the red stuff as they looked around the room. Then I say, “keep your eyes closed and tell me about the blue things that you saw.”
You’ll often find there might be one or two blue things that they knew were in the room, but the list is going to be significantly shorter because they were looking for red things. Then I say to them “if the red stuff was all the things that you didn’t want or all of the things that you thought you could not do, you just saw evidence of it everywhere! It was all over the place. If the blue things were the helpful things, all of the things that we wanted, all of the things that would make you feel like you could do it, you didn’t see any of it because you were too busy thinking about red things.”
This is a practical example of how we can accidentally, at times, make our brain think that stuff is more difficult than it needs to be or that we’ve got more evidence of not being able to do something than we have evidence of being able to do something. It all comes down to what are you looking for. If what you’re looking for is to prove that you can’t do it, guess what, you’ll prove that you can’t do it.
If what you’re looking for is to prove that you can, then your brain will start to see more of that. Sometimes we need to be having conversations with young people about the fact that they are in charge of their brain and that they can take proactive responsibility for making their brain think in a different way.
You have to take charge of it and it’s not just going to happen naturally, it’s not just going to come to you. You have to think that way.
In NLP, we have a module called chunking, which is where you either take small stuff and build it into bigger and more abstract things, or you take big and abstract things, and you break them down into much smaller chunks.
Let’s say that you have a child who has a piece of work in front of them and they say, “I can’t do it.”
Start with “Have you got a pen? Can you pick up the pen? Can you remove the lid from the pen?” You can make a joke out of it and make it fun. This isn’t about making them feel silly it’s just about taking it step by step. What happens often when someone says, “I can’t do it” what they’re often saying is, “I am overwhelmed. I cannot take all this in.”
We’ve all got different thresholds on what overwhelm looks like. For one person overwhelmed might be a 10,000-word dissertation. But for someone else overwhelmed might be two plus two equals, and it’s the only thing on the page in front of them.
There are often other things going on around them, possibly too many other things going on. So, ask them to forget their parent’s divorce or that the rabbit escaped yesterday. Just let that stuff go for a second.
“Right now, there is just one thing to do. Take your lid off your pen and we’ve already made a start.”
If this was a five-point checklist, we’ve already done one thing. Break it down, make it simple and achievable.
When I worked with very young children, who had been out of education, nursery, and those sorts of things for some time, perhaps due to illness, we’d often find that when they returned their development had got set back a little bit.
Not only were they not in alignment with everybody else in the group, but they were often perhaps six months regressed developmentally from how they had been before they left. So, we would give them a jigsaw puzzle that was suitable for a much younger child, because giving them something that was easier, would allow them to tap into a sense of achievement.
Because it was super-easy for them, we would start to see the self-confidence creep back in. When self-confidence is there, they’re more comfortable with facing something that’s a bit more challenging.
Think about how you can bring things down an academic level for them to make it so that they can’t claim stuckness because it’s so ludicrously easy for them to do.
Finally, the final thing is something a bit more fun, which is what we refer to as ‘unsticker questions’ in NLP.
These are really good for tripping your brain out and getting you to think in a different way. These are sometimes used in a therapeutic environment because we also face this problem as therapists, of people saying, ‘I can’t do it’, or ‘I’m stuck.’
Stuckness shows up a lot in therapy. Some sessions you can hear “I don’t know” a lot! Sometimes we would reply with, “what would happen if you didn’t know?”
That can be an unsticker question, but the true one unsticker questions are a bit wackier than that. An unsticker question could be something like, “What would a pigeon say if it had this problem?”
It’s like a jump start for the brain.
It’s the same as when you’re angry, and someone makes you laugh, and it’s just so ridiculous. It snaps you out of that anger mindset that you’re in, so it kind of works in a similar way to that.
“If you could put this problem on a cloud, would it float?”
Unsticker questions loosen things up a little bit and make your brain freer. And that’s the point, you know of the opposite of being stuck is becoming free again. So even though it’s not necessarily going to get you the result that you want, yet, it’s going to get things moving, and it’s going to take away that brick wall or stuckness.
“If a worm had this problem, would it turn it into words?”
“If a wizard had this problem, what kind of spell would he make?”
Employ one suggestion from above at a time because sometimes if you throw everything at it, you actually don’t know what worked.
The original version of this article was written by Gemma Bailey, director of www.NLP4Kids.org.
It was republished and rebuilt with additional content by NLP4KIDS PRACTITIONER IAN DAVIES www.aylesburytherapyforkids.co.uk