Everything a child consistently hears, sees and feels creates a blueprint for how they view themselves, the world and their place within it. The programming that we receive throughout our early years acts like a ‘default setting’ that subconsciously controls how we respond to the world around us.

Only 5% of what we do is conscious, meaning that 95% of the time we are on autopilot, with the majority of our actions, reactions and decisions being guided by our subconscious mind, which is made up of belief systems that we acquire throughout our formative years.

It’s therefore crucial that we look at the consistent messages that our actions and words are giving to children in our care. Our intentions are always from the right place. However, the subconscious mind takes on the literal messages it is receiving. Even though our hearts are in the right place, these literal messages can actually have the opposite effect of what was intended.

An example of this is a family who want to mould a little winner and instil a growth mindset in their child. They might say things like: “We are winners. If we come second, we may as well come last” or “Failure isn’t an option – we are going to win!”. They might also only ever reward their child when they come first. Here, their hearts are in the right place and they are clearly trying to plant positive thoughts into their child. However, the literal message that is being given is that failure is not an option. By programming a child with this belief, their subconscious mind is going to view failure as something to avoid. This actually creates the opposite of a winning mindset, because failure is a part of success. In order to reach our brilliance, we have to step out of our comfort zone. However, by doing this, we also risk failing. If a child’s subconscious mind is programmed to avoid failure, they are most likely never going to fully reach their potential, because 95% of what they do is silently guided by a belief that prevents them from being in situations where they can fail. They might also become a perfectionist or cope badly with failure, which will impact on their resilience and again, prevent them from soaring to great heights.

It works the same way for how children process their thoughts and feelings, therefore it is crucial that we look at the programming that is being given to children through our words and actions. If we want children to process their emotions in a balanced way when they are older, we need to make sure that the literal messages they receive when they are younger are conducive to this happening. It’s best to look at how we want our children to function as teenagers and then ask ourselves if what we are doing now is teaching them to respond in the same way.

We want teenagers to:

  • Know that we are there to support them and to help them with any problems they have
  • Know that their feelings are important
  • Know that no problem is too big or small and that we will help them to work through things no matter what
  • Come to us, rather than isolate themselves

The list goes on. However, if we want children to do all of these things when they are teenagers, we need to programme them with beliefs that facilitate these actions when they are younger.

I have a three- and five-year-old and at times their reactions can be so hard to navigate. They go into meltdown over the smallest things. However, it is also important to remember that problems are relative. Cast your mind back to your 14-year-old self. The problems you had then will seem trivial now. However, you will remember your emotions being big and painful. This is because as we get older, our problems get bigger. However, the emotion that we feel in relation to those problems is pretty consistent. It is the same with toddlers. They might lose it over being given a red pen instead of a blue pen. However, this problem to them is huge and painful. A three-year-old’s problem through the eyes of an adult, will always seem trivial. However, it’s important to remember that problems are relative and the emotion a toddler feels in that moment will be the same as the emotion we felt at 14 when our friend blanked us, or the emotion we feel in our thirties when something goes wrong in life. If we want teenagers to know that their feelings are important, we need to consistently teach children this when they are younger. It can be so easy to say things like “It’s not the end of the world”, but to them, it is. I have to remind myself constantly that although whatever my children are losing it over is not a big deal to me, it is to them, and it’s important that I acknowledge that and help them to find a solution.

Now I’m not sat here on my high horse professing to be perfect! I am far from it. We all have bad days, make mistakes and sometimes react in ways we shouldn’t. If we do, this is a great opportunity to teach children about taking responsibility and saying sorry. Modelling perfection is not great as it creates the same ‘fear of failure’ belief that I talked about earlier. The key word here is ‘consistency’ because it is the consistent messages that will create a default setting for our little ones. It’s important to have strong boundaries and to teach children about consequences. However, it is also important to look at how we are we doing this and to make sure that the literal messages are creating a blueprint for how we want children to act in the future.


 About the author

Stacey Kelly is a former teacher, a parent to 2 beautiful babies and the founder of Early Years Story Box, which is a subscription website providing children’s storybooks and early years resources. She is passionate about building children’s imagination, creativity and self-belief and about creating awareness of the impact that the Early Years have on a child’s future. Stacey loves her role as a writer, illustrator and public speaker and believes in the power of personal development. She is also on a mission to empower children to live a life full of happiness and fulfilment, which is why she launched the #ThankYouOaky Gratitude Movement.

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