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An excerpt from Hidden Messages: What Our Words and Actions are Really Telling Our Children

It’s a curious affliction: the tendency to talk about one’s children in the most brutally honest and hurtful ways without realizing that the cherished subjects of the offensive comments are listening to every word. Right now, you may be saying to yourself, “This never happens to me.” Perhaps. Perhaps not. But I think there’s a good chance you’ll see yourself in at least one of the following examples.

Unloading a cart full of Cheerios, macaroni-and-cheese and hot dogs at the grocery store’s checkout counter, a harried mother chats animatedly to the cashier.  “… Only one more week ’til summer vacation, then the kids will be home all day. I can already hear the bickering and whining! I don’t know how I’ll manage to live through the next few months! Want to buy two kids, cheap?” The cashier laughs and shakes her head, “Oh, no thanks, I have my own! I know what you mean! Im already waiting for next September!” In their supposedly innocent light-hearted banter, neither one notices the shopper’s two children standing right beside her, listening quietly to every hurtful word. Neither one notices a pair of small eyes cast downward just so, or a nervous little cough.

Consider Amir’s situation as he walks in the door after another grueling day of work. His joyful, eager children run for Daddy, but Mom spies him coming in just before they have their chance to pounce. And the daily gripe session begins. “I am SO glad you’re home. I need five minutes of peace and quiet. These kids drove me crazy all day! Abdi and Sheida have been like wild animals. They were fighting in the living room and knocked over the potted fern. Aria has been acting like a two-year-old-having temper tantrums over every little thing. The wash machine is broken again and I have four stacks of kids’ dirty clothes piled up in the laundry room . . .” Quietly and unnoticed, three dispirited children fade into the background of the family room and turn on the TV.

Then there’s Megan, chatting on the phone with her best friend. As usual, the conversation turns to the daily issues with their children. Megan dramatically relates how very annoyed she was with Kyle at baseball this morning. “I was so embarrassed!” she groans. “Kyle struck out and he stomped his foot like a baby and threw his helmet on the ground. Youd think he was five years old instead of 15!” She chuckled. “I think adolescent hormones are taking over.” Meanwhile, said adolescent is just a few feet away, pretending to work on his homework-but actually suffering the embarrassment of listening to his mother talk about his very real pain as if it were some big joke.

I know many parents who slip into the type of unfortunate conversation of a mother and father who approached me after a recent parenting lecture. They were anxious to talk with me, bemoaning their three-year-olds latest behavior problems. “Molly’s been a good girl until recently. It’s like we’ve entered the terrible twos a bit late. She’s just no fun anymore. She’s constantly yelling ‘No!’ to us and won’t listen to a word we say. We’ve tried to be patient, but she’s pushed us to the end of our rope!” I glance down to see a little three-year-old (Molly, perhaps?) clinging tightly to her father’s leg. But she’s only three, she doesn’t understand what they’re saying, this couldn’t possibly hurt her.

Or so we think.

The Hidden Message

“I can talk about you all I want, and since you’re just a child you’re not listening to what I say anyway. Youre not worthy of the same respect I’d give another adult. Besides, this is how I REALLY feel about you, and I don’t care about your feelings-you’re just a kid so your feelings aren’t important.”

Think About It

If you don’t believe that your children hear your casual remarks, try this: As you chat with a friend or your spouse, casually slip a question in the middle of your conversation. Something along the lines of, “Do you think we should round up the kids and take them out for ice cream?” Be ready to hop in the car when you hear the chorus of, “Yes!” from the four corners of the house.

Children do not always react outwardly to what they hear. However, if you could see into their hearts, you would find a record of every careless word, every thoughtless action, every adult laugh, that here, in the most tender and vulnerable of places, was not found so funny. Here would you find also significant-and often, inappropriate-meaning attached to these products of childhood observation. Children struggle through the growing-up process, and along the way they question who they are and what their meaning is to this world and to their parents. A parent’s potent words, and the multitude of other comments, gestures and actions, help a child paint a picture of who he really is, and how important he is in this world. How tragic for that child if, despite how we really feel, that painting is not the masterpiece we envision!

Changes You Can Make

Given the extreme importance of your words, it simply makes good sense to choose them carefully. From now on, if your child is within hearing distance assume that he may be listening-and don’t say anything about him that you wouldn’t say to him.

If you see a bit of yourself in the previous examples, you’re no different than most parents. But that doesn’t mean that this behavior needn’t cease. Such a simple change could have a very positive impact on your children’s lives. As you talk about your children-and let’s face it, they’re among our favorite topics-pay attention to how those words sound from your child’s point of view. If you think that what you’re saying, or about to say, can be construed as hurtful or embarrassing, stop. Talk about something else.

If you’re not sure what you’re saying has a negative impact or not, ask yourself how you would feel if you overheard someone talking about you in those exact words. Or perhaps you can ask yourself, “If I were talking about my boss/spouse/best friend to another person, with the object of my comments listening, would I ever say such a thing?” If your answer is a mortified laugh, then stop mid-sentence and rephrase your comments in a more positive way, if you find them absolutely crucial to the conversation.

Better yet, find something shining and wonderful to say about your child, and be sure your child hears it. That type of “casual comment” can yield life-enhancing benefits to your children. It may help them compose a more wonderful vision of themselves. An image that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.

(Excerpted with permission by NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group Inc. from Hidden Messages – What Our Words and Actions are Really Telling Our Children by Elizabeth Pantley, copyright 2001)

Find out more about Hidden Messages: What Our Words and Actions are Really Telling Our Childrenand Elizabeth Pantley’s other parenting books right here:


Gothic”>Jan Hunt, Counseling Psychologist and Director of The Natural Child Project offers compassionate support and creative solutions on attachment parenting, unschooling, and personal concerns, with an introductory discount for all new clients. For details, write to Jan at, or visit


7 Basic Human Needs for Good Mental Health and Emotional Well-Being
by Roger Elliott

If you are suffering from an emotional problem such as depression, anxiety, obsessive behaviour or repetitive addictions, there is only one place you should start when looking for a solution. Your basic human needs.

It seems obvious, but all too often, when it comes to psychology, common sense goes out the window, and the textbooks come off the bookshelf. Why not leave them there for just now, and ask yourself the following questions…

* If you had no petrol in your car, would you be wondering why it won’t start?

* If your garden hadn’t seen rain for 6 months, would you be racking your brains about why all the plants had died?

Of course not. But ask human beings to apply the same objective observation to their own lives and you are setting a much trickier task.

Take a look at these two real life cases from our clinic, and see if you can spot the problem:

Case Study One: Stressed-Out Sue

‘Sue’, 23, came to me in a highly agitated state complaining that she felt she was on the verge of ‘going crazy.’ She reported the following problems:

Feeling close to tears much of the time
Irrational thoughts
Feeling depressed sometimes
Feeling manic some of the time.

I asked her about her routine and she told me that she got up at 6.00 am every day to catch the early train to her job in a busy IT company in the city. The rest of the conversation went something like this:

Me: “So you just grab breakfast and get on the train then?”
Sue: “No I never bother with breakfast I grab a coffee on the train.”
Me: “Gosh, you must get really hungry by lunch time!”
Sue: “I don’t bother with lunch I just work straight through and eat a sandwich on the train at the end of the day”
Me: ” What time do you get home?”
Sue: “About 9.00 pm then, to unwind I drink a bottle of wine so I can get a decent night’s sleep.”
Me: “And how long have you been feeling like this?”
Sue: “About six months!”
Me: “How long did you say you’d been in your present job?”
Sue: “Wow! It must be around six months now.”

So, Sue was getting up at six, skipping breakfast, skipping lunch, grabbing fast food on the homeward journey and then drinking herself to sleep. At weekends she slept and caught up with friends but usually felt too lethargic to do very much.

I suggested to Sue that continually ignoring our mind and body’s basic needs usually has severe consequences. I suggested that, as an ‘experiment’ she do the following.

Start having breakfast. Take at least half an hour for lunch. Use a ‘power nap’ relaxation exercise I’d taught her after her mid day meal. Keep her work day evenings free of alcohol and just drink
during the evening at the weekends. She also mentioned that she was thinking of asking her boss
if she could have one day during the week working from home. I enthusiastically agreed that this was a great idea as she would then have an extra travel free day.

I saw Sue the following week. She was transformed. She beamed at me, looking years younger. She was sleeping better without the alcohol, she was eating regularly and was now working at home on Wednesdays. She said her moods had totally stabilized and she was no longer tearful. This was two years ago.

I bumped into her recently and she told me she was still “checking the oil and water before worrying about an engine breakdown!”

Case Study Two: Loner Brian

‘Brian’ was a single forty six year old mature student and part time free lance illustrator. He reported feeling miserable and low.

On checking his basic needs, it was clear that his diet was fine. He also slept well regularly, although seldom felt rested after sleep – a common symptom of depression.

However it soon became obvious that he had very little social contact. He sometimes spent weeks alone working on his course dissertation and on illustration work.

He said he spent a lot of time ‘in his own head’ and agreed that we all need some kind of contact and a source of stabilization. We looked at ways he could increase social contact and he suggested he started going to bowling again. There was a regular group he knew pretty well but he hadn’t been for months although he used enjoy it.

He also decided to begin jogging around the park again as this always lifted his mood (serotonin, a neurotransmitter connected to a sense of well being is increased through exercise) and he enjoyed being recognised and acknowledged by dog walkers in the park.

I suggested he have his lunch in a busy little cafe close to where he lived. He made these changes and reported later feeling a great deal better. Whilst not all depressions lift so quickly, in Brian’s case the basic need for social support and connection was the main offender in making him feel bad much of the time.

Again, easy! So why is it that each of these individuals couldn’t see the problem themselves?

Well, it seems to come down to this:

Apparently, if you chuck a frog into a pan of boiling water, it will hop straight out again. But if you put him in cold water and slowly heat it up, he will sit there until well and truly poached.

Problems due to missing ‘basics’ in peoples lives tend to develop over time, and so can be easily missed. Then, when the problem arises – be it anxiety, depression, addiction or some other nasty – they can’t for the life of them fathom out why!

It’s therefore a great idea to know what your own garden needs in order to grow well, so when you see something starting to wither, you can check your list and apply the necessary nutrients.

So here’s the list. (At least, our list. If you think we’ve missed any, do let us know!)

1. The need to give and receive attention.

“No Man Is An Island”

Without regular quality contact with other people, mental condition, emotional state and behaviour can suffer quite drastically. This is often particularly obvious in elderly people who have become isolated. After days alone, their first contact may be their GP, who sees them for 10 minutes.

They are highly likely during this short period to appear ‘strange’ as their thwarted need for attention asserts itself in an outpouring of communication. If the GP takes this as representative of the patient’s general mental condition, they may prescribe drugs, where really a few hours of being listened to would suffice.

You may also have noticed this in evening-class attendees who command the teacher’s attention all the time, asking seemingly daft questions and not really listening to the answers!

2. Taking heed of the mind body connection.

This is so important, and so often neglected. Without correct and regular nutrition, sleep and exercise, your psychological state can suffer considerably. It is often seen that young people, on leaving home and the structure that provides, succumb to one mental illness or another. Their mealtimes, sleep patterns and other regular habits become disrupted, with predictable consequences.

It seems that people are increasingly treating themselves as machines!

3. The need for purpose, goals and meaning.

“The devil will make work for idle hands to do.”

Perhaps the overriding element that sets human beings apart from other animals is the ability to identify, analyse and solve problems. This is what enabled us to develop to where we have.

If this ability is under-used, the imagination can start to create problems of its own – perhaps in an attempt to give you something to do because it is not occupied doing anything else.

Regardless, if a person is deprived of the outward focus and satisfaction created by achieving goals, mental illness is often close behind.

The need for meaning is perhaps even more profound. Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning documents the impact of lack of meaning on concentration camp prisoners, of which he was one. He says in it that “What is the meaning of life?” is a question that is asked of you, not one that you yourself ask. It is a hugely powerful and important read when considering mental health.

4. Connection to something bigger than oneself.

Tying in with the need for meaning, this basic need provides a context for a person. It gives them a reason for being, over and above their own personal needs, that has been shown to benefit the immune system, mental health and happiness.

The obvious candidate would be religion, but can also be an idea shared with others, a club, charity work. In fact, anything that takes the focus off the self.

5. The need for creativity and stimulation.

Learning something new, expanding horizons, improving on existing skills all provide a sensation of progress and achievement. Without this, a person can feel worthless, or that there is no real reason for their being.

6. The need to feel understood and connected.

Tying in with the need for attention, it seems that people have a need to share their ideas, hopes and dreams with others close to them. For some, this can be as simple a talking to a loved pet, but for most of us, it requires that we have at least one individual with whom we can converse
‘on the same level’.

7. The need to feel a sense of control.

“All your eggs in one basket.”

The results of total loss of control over your surroundings, relationships or body are not hard to imagine, and have been well documented.

From survivors of torture, to someone losing their job, those who are able to maintain a sense of control somewhere in their life fare the best. This is why having a variety of interests and activities is so important.

Many Needs, One Life

It may seem that a life that meets all of these needs would be intolerably busy. But of course, one activity can meet many needs. Charity work for example, could be said to fulfill 1, 3, 4 and 5, and could contribute to 6 and 7.

Walking with a friend as a pastime might go towards 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6.

Generally, what this suggests, and what has been borne out by recent research, is that a more complex life is a more healthy one.

Then if one area of life fails or is taken away from you, your basic needs are maintained, at least in part, by those that survive.

So the message is…

If your progress through life has gone a bit awry for you or a friend, check there is petrol in the car, and that the battery is charged before going to a mechanic to have the engine taken apart!

Copyright (c) Roger Elliott

Article by Roger Elliott of Uncommon Knowledge Ltd
Emotional Intelligence, NLP and Hypnosis Training and Products
Visit the Uncommon Knowledge website at:

“You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself.” – Sam Levenson


Rethinking Education Conference
May 28-31, 2004, Irving, Texas, USA

Michael Mendizza of Touch The Future will be presenting Magical Parent-Magical Child, The Art of Joyful Parenting, at the RETHINKING EDUCATION Conference. Of the hundreds of homeschool conferences that take place across the USA every year, there is none like the conference on Rethinking Education in the Dallas area in May!

Now in its 8th year, this conference draws a national audience of families who thrive when “thinking outside the box” of traditional schooling approaches. The weekend is jam packed with over 200 sessions for adults, teens and kids and ranges from intensely thought provoking to wildly fun. If you haven’t treated yourself to this conference before, and you’re anywhere near Texas, do it this year! The conference website is and their entire program and all details are available there.

“There is, after all, an inherent conflict of interest and a possibility for injustice when we ask state schools to evaluate the merits of a family’s home schooling plan. It is a little like telling people they can own any kind of car they want, as long as they have the approval of the local General Motors dealer.” – John Holt, The Constitutional Basis for Home Education


Power of the mind can stop you catching flu, researchers reveal
By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Scientists trying to find whether there is any truth to “mind over matter” say brain activity can control resistance to influenza. They have demonstrated a direct link between the brain’s emotional state and the body’s immune defences to explain why depressed people are more likely to catch a cold.

Although there is considerable research showing a person’s mood can influence their susceptibility to a virus, no previous study has found a direct link to the brain.

Neuroscientists led by Richard Davidson, of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, found electrical activity in the left prefrontal cortex – the region of the brain above the left eye – appears to play a critical role in directing the body’s immune system.

High levels of activity in the same region of the brain are known to be linked with a more positive attitude to life, with severely depressed people having a particularly subdued left prefrontal cortex relative to their right prefrontal cortex.

Professor Davidson’s findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They checked 52 volunteers with a brain scanner, measured each person’s electrical activity in the left and right pre-frontal cortex before injecting them with a flu vaccine to see how well their immune systems responded to a simulated viral attack.

Over the next six months, the scientists monitored the levels of flu-fighting antibodies that appeared in the blood of each volunteer. They found those with relatively high levels of activity in the right pre-frontal cortex produced greater amounts of flu antibody.

“This study established that people with a pattern of brain activity that has been associated with a positive affective style are also the ones to show the best response to the flu vaccine,” Professor Davidson said. “It begins to suggest a mechanism [that means] subjects with a more positive emotional disposition may be healthier.”

Scientists have demonstrated there is a link between pyschological wellbeing and physical health. Severe stress and depression also have a direct impact on the immune system, affecting chemical messengers called cytokines, which are needed to recover from an infection. Professor Davidson added: “Emotions play an important role in modulating bodily systems that influence our health.”

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