How Parents of Toddlers Can Learn from the World’s Greatest Hypnotist
You may not have ever heard of this man. His name is Dr. Milton Erickson. He passed away in 1980. At the time I was a 5 year old boy. I had no idea this man would make so much of a difference to me later on. But he did.
Milton Erickson is widely accepted as one of the most amazing hypnotists to ever live. He used hypnosis to help people, rather than entertain them.
I say he was a hypnotist. But, at the time, what he did was highly unconventional. People didn’t understand it. He wouldn’t tell people he was using hypnosis. And what he did certainly didn’t seem like hypnosis. It just seemed like a conversation. That’s why the results he got startled people so much.
How a Schizophrenic Patient Led to an Amazing Hypnotic Discovery
During Erickson’s career, he worked as a psychologist at Worcester State Hospital in Massachusetts, USA. Schizophrenic patients would often speak in “word salad”. This is a term Erickson coined to describe a seemingly meaningless rambling.
While working with one such patient, who was speaking “word salad”, Erickson had a secretary record (in shorthand) what the patient was saying. He figured there must be some meaning of these words to the patient. Erickson noticed there was, indeed, an embedded message in the word salad.
This led Dr. Erickson to wonder if he could construct his own word salad, while purposefully embedding his own message.
Long story short, Erickson discovered a concept that hypnotists now call “embedded commands”.
Curing Migraine Headaches with Embedded Commands
To test out his own “word salad”, Erickson encountered a hospital secretary. She would regularly suffer from severe migraines during the onset of menstruation.
Back in those days, there were no tape recorders. Secretaries performed dictation for doctors. Erickson insisted this secretary perform dictation. She reluctantly sat down to do her job. Erickson embedded commands in the middle of his word salad. She certainly didn’t notice the commands consciously. She was too busy writing down his words to think about them.
After 15 minutes she interrupted Dr. Erickson to excitedly tell him something. Her migraine was gone!
Whenever she would get a migraine, she would volunteer for dictation work that no other secretary wanted to do. With other doctors, this would just amplify her headache. But when working with Erickson, the headache would vanish.
How Embedded Commands Work
When we talk, we usually talk in complex sentences. Each sentence has many fragments, or pieces. The person listening is busy paying attention to the words and translating those words into meaning.
The listener is usually busy paying attention to the content of what’s being said. The content occupies your conscious attention.
You can embed commands into your speech. Embedded commands are marked out for the listener in a subtle way. The listener won’t notice consciously. But he or she will notice unconsciously.
The easiest way to embed a command is to use your voice in a different tone, or different tempo. This marks out the command to the other person’s unconscious mind.
I might say to you, “When I’m at my computer I often find that I enjoy new ideas”. I might continue with a story about how I once read an article about parenting that really helped me to realize that you can learn new skills.
When these sentence fragments are spoken differently, they become stand-alone commands. These commands are interpreted by the other person’s unconscious mind.
Will the command be acted upon by the listener? Often yes … as long as the command is possible, helpful, and doesn’t violate the other person’s moral code.
Using Embedded Commands on Toddlers or Children of Any Age
Before you start to use this technique, I want you to have a goal in mind. I would often use embedded commands to get my kids ready for bed. During the summer months, we might play outside until just before bedtime. I’d need to calm the kids down. That was my goal. You might have a different goal.
Next, find a story that you can weave your command into. It might be a real story. It might be one that you make up on the spot. Make sure you’ve read my article on telling stories to kids.
Pay attention, now, to what’s marked out as an embedded command. When I was getting my kids ready for bed, I would tell them about my childhood. I would tell them how easily I would start to get tired at night. Often times, I would be at the dinner table, and I would just want to relax. My mom sometimes had to slide my dinner plate away from me because I’d just start to fall asleep right at the dinner table. It’s funny to think about it now, but at the time I knew I was just getting tired and I knew I needed to get some rest.
I remember watching my daughter’s breathing rate completely change while doing this. Her face would relax. Her eyes would soften. Then we’d just snuggle for a bit and I’d put her in bed. Sleep would quickly follow.
Tips to Making Embedded Commands Work
- Know your goal.
- Wrap your embedded commands in a story to occupy your child’s attention. This prevents the command from being noticed at all. The more interesting the story, the better.
- Seed your suggestion several times. Notice how I embedded several suggestions about sleep in my above example? It’s OK to be repetitive.
- Calibrate the response. Notice what’s happening to your child. If you get the result you’re after, stop. Your work is done. If not, think about your goal. If your goal is to have your child fall asleep but the real problem is a fear of the dark, commands to feel tired won’t help. You need to tackle the right problem!
- ?The embedded command is a language skill. Pure and simple. If you want to be the kind of parent that can influence his or her child effectively, you need to learn this.
You can also take your skills to the next level by combining multiple language tools. My audio course, “Talking to Toddlers” is full of powerful tools that will make you a much better parent.