‘Clean Language’ in NLP (neuro linguistic programming) is when we don’t add our own ‘stuff’ , make assumptions about what they mean and allow them to explore their thinking for themselves rather than us making ‘helpful suggestions’ about what they mean or what they should do next,or think even. We love them and we think we know them so we believe we are in a position to understand what they are trying to say. However, they are changing and growing every day and sometimes we lose track of the fact that the ideas they had yesterday have changed slightly.
Let me tell you a story about how I used clean language with my daughter many years ago now. She was between Year 6 and Year 7, so heading off to Secondary School at the end of the summer holidays. I knew she loved the school she had chosen but no-one else from her year was going to be there. Every face would be new. The school was also not in our local area so she wouldn’t even be likely to know any local children either. She was a little quiet that summer and I wondered how she was feeling about the move. Now had I asked her the direct question, “How do you feel about going to St Bernard’s?” here are some of the answers I could reasonably have predicted:
“Why do you want to know?”
“What do you mean?”
Children don’t tend to respond well to these ‘how do you feel’ questions and in my experience nor do men! These are strictly questions for we women because in general we enjoy talking about our feelings. However, it’s safe to say that children don’t, which makes my job as a Kids Coach very interesting. So instead I asked her
“When you think about going to your new school what sort of animal are you?”
Children relate really well to animal metaphors and by projecting their feelings onto something else they can distance themselves and become more aware of them.
“A tiger.” she said.
Well that’s good I immediately thought. She’s obviously feeling very confident about the move so it must be something else that’s on her mind. But clean questions means that we don’t work with our images and associations we work with theirs. So I needed to know more. I asked
“And what kind of a tiger is that?”
“A baby tiger.” she said
Ah , so maybe not so big and strong….
“And what is there about the baby tiger?” I asked.
“She’s at the edge of the great big jungle and she’s feeling a bit scared. She knows it is very exciting in there and she knows it will be a big adventure but she’s just a bit scared to take the first step.”
So now I knew much more about how she was feeling.
“Tell me more about the baby tiger.” I ventured.
“She needs a hug from mummy Tiger.” She said and we did.
I use metaphors a lot with child clients. In fact the other day one of my Skype clients, a boy age 12yrs was lacking confidence. He said he felt like a tortoise. I thought that sounded quite promising, thinking ‘hard shell, could be useful in the school playground’. But in fact he went on to tell me that other children walked all over him, treading on his shell. But he could tuck his head inside and escape into himself. I asked him what animal he would like to be at school.
A Brontosaurus , he replied.
“And what kind of a brontosaurus is that?”
“He is tall and can see around. Everyone respects him and wouldn’t want to mess with him but he’s harmless, he only looks big and strong. He eats plants and he’s quite gentle really. ”
When a child has a metaphor like this for his desired state we can anchor it using a gesture such as squeezing your ear lobe and associating into the visualization so that when he needs to feel strong like a Brontosaurus at school he can just squeeze his earlobe to get that confident state.
If you have a child making a major change in their life or with something important coming up that they are worried about, use this technique. Here are the main question structures
1. Just reflect the last word back to them with a questioning tone e.g. “a tiger?”
2. “And what kind of a …………..is that?”
3. “And that …………that’s like what?”
4. “And that ……….where is that?”
5. “And what is there about the ………….?”
6. “In what way is …………………..?”
7. “How do you do that?”
8. “Tell me more about the ………………?”
If you’d like to know more then my book ‘Be a happier parent with NLP’ would be a good read. If you think they’d enjoy going through an NLP workbook for themselves this summer holiday then NLP for Children is for children aged 5-10yrs, NLP for Tweens is for 10-14yrs and NLP for Teens is for 15-21yrs. You can buy all my books or book an NLP consultation in person or on Skype here or of course on Amazon and my website will give you a lot more information about NLP Kids.