What's NLP and why use it with Young People?

Ask an NLP practitioner about what NLP is and you are likely to see an interesting, contorted facial expression! It can be very challenging to define NLP. Partly this is because it means something different to every one of us. Some people define it as “the study of excellence and how it can be achieved in everyday life”. I once heard someone say, “Is it NLP?” to a practitioner and the practitioner replied, “If it works, it’s NLP!”

I also heard someone describe NLP as “non-invasive laser eye surgery for the brain”. I like the description I came across where somebody explained it as “Sometimes we forget when we are wearing contact lenses that they affect how we view the world. We might forget that we are even wearing them! NLP is like putting in a new set of contacts to help us see things in a fresh light. It helps us remember that the world and what we see, and experience can be filtered in different ways.”

A more formal description of NLP could be that it is a therapy or coaching tool that can be used successfully to enhance self-esteem, rapport and vision. NLP tools can be applied to all life situations for example in parenting and business as well as other relationships to inspire, build confidence and improve communication. It helps with change and conflict management and develops negotiation and interaction through modelling, visualising and observing excellence.

If we look at what NLP actually stands for, it gives us more insight - NLP stands for Neuro Linguistic Programming. “Neuro” is to do with how we think and what we are thinking. It is where we cement our beliefs, values, memories and attitudes, “Linguistic” is about our communication with others. It is to do with what we say and how we say it. This communication could be verbal or non-verbal –for example, our body language. “Programming” is our processing and understanding of all our experiences and how we organise or interpret them along with the impact our actions have on others and their response to that.

NLP teaches us ways of ironing out internal conflict within ourselves. It teaches us self-respect and how to have more patience as we learn and trial exciting new concepts. Most importantly, it opens our imagination and flexibility, so we can begin to “step into the shoes” of others, including the children with whom we live and work. It is always fascinating and humbling to explore their worlds more consciously and fully through NLP philosophy. One thing that has always struck me is just how good at learning new skills and modelling excellence children are. We adults have so much to learn from them about adaptability and taking feedback more positively to allow ourselves to make changes and move forward.

NLP gives us new ways of building respect for and understanding of different people’s perspectives. With an understanding of NLP practice and theory we can develop a conscious understanding of how our own and other people’s minds, bodies and language work to build our interpretations of the world. It teaches new strategies for how to step outside of our old perspectives on our own experiences, gives us the time, mind set and opportunities to observe, listen to and model others. By allowing ourselves the curiosity and flexibility of state to do this, we can learn to communicate and build rapport more effectively. There are huge benefits for all if we learn to see the world through different eyes and model excellence by studying new maps. It is indeed astonishing when we begin to explore the endless variations there are in the world for us to view and relate to any one experience and by how amazing the human brain is in how it makes sense of these experiences.

As they are already so resourceful and so flexible and adaptable in their thinking children can easily take on the concepts of NLP and grow in awareness of just how much direction and purpose they can build into their worlds. I think we can work with children of any age to help them nurture a sense of being “at cause” in their own lives rather than “at effect”. We can work hard to give even the youngest of children the understanding that they have a choice over how they will react to an experience, what their behaviour choices mean and how this will impact on their general state, relationships and the outcomes they set and achieve.

Even very young children can take responsibility for their own mood, be encouraged to reframe experiences to view them from different perspectives and use this awareness to look for resources within themselves to achieve successful outcomes in their relationships and daily lives. We can teach all children how to get themselves into the most resourceful state possible so that they can enjoy meeting challenges and developing empowering beliefs and a positive sense of identity.

It is so easy for adults to fall into the habit of only viewing things from our own very different perspectives to children if we do not meet them at their level. However, surely the best way of understanding how to support them in their choices is by experiencing the world through something more like their eyes and ears. By teaching ourselves and the children we live or work with how to apply the concepts of NLP in daily life, we build a society where we explore the possible perspectives and meanings of experiences for others before jumping to conclusions or assumptions about their experiences. Fostering an attitude of self-worth and self-belief incorporating tolerance and acceptance of others is one of the biggest gifts we could give to the youngest members of our society.