Today, I watched with great interest the segment on Good Morning America (GMA) that featured a hypnotherapist who described how she regularly hypnotized her own children to help improve their study habits and in general their approach to life. The hypnotherapist suggested that hypnotizing children for these purposes was going to become very popular.
Doctor offers caution regarding hynotherapy’s potential to help kids
GMA’s Chief Health and Medical Director Dr. Richard Besser acknowledged for years therapists have used hypnosis to help patients successfully deal with a variety of issues such as anxiety, smoking and obesity; however, using hypnosis as an adjunct to parenting has not been studied. He cautiously affirmed that this approach has some interesting potential to help kids.
This took me back to my training in hypnotherapy and also the once popular parenting book by Muriel James entitled Breaking Free, in which she dedicated a chapter to the idea that children are spellbound by their parents. She shared that because children are under the spells of their parents (which can be translated are being hypnotized by their parents) the messages that their parents transmit become deeply embedded injunctions.
James writes “All children receive messages or injunctions about their worth from their parents. These messages contribute to a child’s sense of positive self-esteem and/or to the sense of low, negative esteem. A child who receives only positive messages will have much less need for self-reparenting than will those who have the opposite, negative experience.”
What are injunctions?
She explains, “Injunctions are commands, directives, or orders. The word is used here to refer to statements or acts by parenting figures that adversely affect children’s sense of being alive and well, capable and competent, free and joyful. Injunctions, like spells, may lead to lifelong problems with or without the awareness of those who give them or those who receive them. Depending upon how they are given, injunctions may brainwash, hypnotize, or condition a child” [p. 52]
In my training I learned that parents regularly induce trance-like states in their children by the ways that they force their children to make eye contact “Johnny, you look at me! Don’t you look away! You are to look at me the whole time I’m speaking!” They often come very close to a child, hold the child by the shoulders which is a gesture that indicates authority over that child, change their voice tone to one that is very intimidating and even use trans-inducing commands, such as saying the child’s full name instead of just the first name.
How many of us knew we were in trouble if her parents used our first, middle and last name calling us to stand before them and be admonished for something? Some of the power of that moment was because we may have been in a trance-like state and therefore much more receptive to whatever was being said. In those moments we were transfixed and receiving hypnotic suggestions, which are much more powerful than those suggestions made when not in a trance-like state.
The power of imaginative play
Another factor that explains why children are so easily subject to being hypnotized by parents is that children go in and out of trances regularly through all of the imaginative play they engage in.
Most parents realize that their young children struggle with differentiating between reality and fantasy. There is a reason why Selma Fraiberg entitled her book about children from birth to age 6, The Magic Years. These are the years of magical thinking and a child’s mind can be easily manipulated when parents engage in trans-inducing behaviors.
When I have taught this to parents, they are often shocked, dismayed and uncomfortable with the idea that they actually may have been inadvertently hypnotizing their children when they engage in what they now are learning are trans-inducing behaviors. They have viewed some of these behaviors as ways to get kids’ attention and make a deep impression on them about the importance of something. They were surprised to learn that sometimes the messages are coming in at a much deeper level, making an imprint in a child’s mind in ways that messages transmitted more casually do not.
This power parents have to place their children “under their spell” is not a new idea.
Hypo-parenting might become a new wave of the future, but it is important to know it’s been around since parents first started to use trans-inducing behaviors in order to have deeper influence on their children—whether it be healthy, positive injunctions or those that are less healthy and even toxic.
Being aware of the powers you have as a parent to hypnotize your children is an important awareness. Parents can become more intentional about transmitting positive, healthy injunctions whenever they induce trance. Examples:
- “Mary Jane, I need you to listen very carefully. You are capable of thinking before you act. You can be in charge of your behaviors!”
- “William, look me right in the eye and listen very carefully. You are never to get in a car with someone who has been drinking or drugging even if they say they are okay. Do you hear me? Never!”
Dr. Besser encouraged parents to be very careful consumers when considering using hypno-parenting by making sure whoever they employ is well-qualified.
I am suggesting that parents appreciate how often they may be unconsciously using hypnotic techniques and therefore need to do so responsibly, implanting positive, healthy life messages that strengthen the inner core of their children.
Invitation to Reflect
- Notice how this information impacts you. Do you find it alarming or disturbing? Is it hard to believe? Does that leave you wondering what some of the messages are that you have transmitted to your children when they were in a more trans-like state?
- Equipped with this new information, what are some ways you can be more intentional in speaking with your children in those moments when you need to be firm or wish to instill in them messages that are empowering?
- What do you need to do to ensure that you do not inadvertently induce a trance-like state in your child and then, perhaps because you’re frustrated or angry, transmit damaging messages?
- You might find it valuable to think about some of their own core beliefs and remember some of the ways your parents transmitted those messages to you. To what extent are you spellbound or free?
Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network