“The person that you want to be is the person that you really are.”
― Steve Peters
As adults, it can be hard to understand the emotions you experience.
For children, emotions show up in many different, unpredictable ways, and it can be even harder to make sense of them.
After a very strange 18 months in the pandemic world, children may start experiencing new emotions or seeing their emotions play out differently.
For example, they may feel urges of anger at the unpredictability of the pandemic, anxiety around socialising, fear at looking silly at school or a lack of self-confidence around abilities they were once very confident in.
All of these emotions can be overwhelming and all-consuming.
However, it is important for adults and children to understand that; you are not your thoughts.
Just because your child experiences anger doesn’t mean they are an angry person.
Just the same as feeling unconfident doesn’t mean that it has to hold them back from doing the activities they love.
This principle of separating your emotions from the essence of who you are is most popularly documented as managing your ‘inner chimp’, which comes from the best-selling book The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters.
Helping kids understand what role the inner chimp is playing in their lives can be a great way to prevent these negative thoughts from taking over.
What’s Your Inner Chimp Telling You?
The inner chimp is considered the emotional part of the brain. It is the part of the brain that causes you to react without listening to the reason and logic of the brain (known as the human).
For example, the inner chimp can cause a child to act up or sulk without a logical reason.
The inner chimp can also be responsible for those late-night worries that disrupt sleep or unhelpful thoughts and creates emotional outbursts that feel sudden, spontaneous or irrational to other people.
Professor Steve Peters explains how the inner chimp works in more detail in his book.
It had so much success that even Olympic gold medallist Sir Chris Hoy says that he wouldn’t have won gold at the Beijing Olympics without understanding his inner chimp.
Following the success of The Chimp Paradox, Professor Steve Peters released My Hidden Chimp, which explains the principle in a child-friendly way.
In this post, we’ll briefly explain the process of managing the inner chimp, known as emotional self-regulation, so that you can practice this with your child.
How To Recognise And Regulate The Inner Chimp
1. Listen Out For Negative Words
Try to become aware of any negative words your child might say. As adults, we can get used to hearing and thus ignoring self-deprecating and negative comments. However, actively listening out for the negative words your child uses can be so helpful in recognising where their inner chimp shows up. It could be words such as:
- I’m not good at…
- I can’t…
- I’m scared about…
- I worry…
- Everyone will laugh at me if I …
Being fully present and actively listening to your child when they share something like this is so important.
It takes a lot of courage to share their concerns and to be vulnerable, so making sure you’re fully engaged is crucial so that your child feels heard.
2. Help Them Separate Their Thoughts
When your child is angry, anxious or worried, it can feel all-consuming to them.
At this stage, it is important to help your child separate how they’re feeling from who they really are.
Just because they feel angry now doesn’t mean they are ‘an angry person’.
A great way to prove this is to ask your child to sit quietly for 30 seconds and count all of the thoughts that pop into their head during that time.
At the end of the 30 seconds, challenge their thinking by asking, ‘if you were the one counting the thoughts, then who was the one that was having the thoughts?’.
A way to explain this is the inner chimp is the one who is thinking all of these things.
However, the human brain was the one who was counting.
At this stage, it might also help for your child to reflect on when they started to feel a particular emotion and if they remember what caused it.
3. Introduce The Inner Chimp
In simple terms, it can help your child to understand that the brain has different parts:
- Inner chimp – which looks after your feelings and excitement
- Human brain – this is the sensible part of the brain that thinks and makes good decisions
The inner chimp can sometimes be a cheeky monkey and tries to make life more difficult for you.
It might whisper in your ear to not put your hand up in class because people might laugh at you.
It might tell you that because your friend played with someone else today, they don’t like you anymore.
It may tell you that if you do something new, then something bad could happen.
This chimp wants to protect you from danger.
However, sometimes, it’s a bit silly and thinks that everything is dangerous, even when it isn’t.
4. Draw Your Brain
To help your child make more sense of the cheeky monkey in their head, it can help to draw it.
Ask them to draw a brain with a line down the middle. On one side, draw the cheeky chimp that they picture in their head.
Then on the other side, draw their sensible self who makes good decisions.
What name can your child come up with for the chimp that they have drawn?
How about a name for their sensible self too?
Creating a name, personality and image for each part of the brain can help really help to show that it is possible to recognise, separate and regulate whatever the child is going through.
5. Bring It Back To The Chimp
The next time your child has a negative thought, bring their attention back to what might be going on.
Is their inner chimp trying to keep them safe but going about it in the wrong way?
What could the sensible part of the brain say to the chimp?
Perhaps you could reflect back to the picture of the brain.
You could ask your child, ‘if each section had a speech bubble, what would each side be saying?’
At this stage, it can be helpful to provide reassurance.
The child could say thank you to the chimp for letting them know how they were feeling but are choosing to listen to the sensible voice in their head.
What plan, consequence or outcome will happen as a result of listening to the sensible voice?
It always helps to acknowledge what they’ve learnt from their chimp brain and their sensible brain to recognise what both sides bring.
How Flourished Minds Use The Inner Chimp
At Flourished Minds, we love helping children to identify their inner chimps.
We know how effective it can be for kids and adults to recognise that their pesky, limiting thoughts are not who they really are.
What’s more, with our extensive experience working with children and young adults, we know exactly how to tweak and tailor our language so that it makes sense to every child of every age.
When we talk about the inner chimp during our coaching sessions, it’s incredible to see the clarity and transformation it can create.
When young people understand what is happening in their minds, they can better control how they respond and react.
Understanding the role the inner chimp plays and being aware of it gives children the power back.
They don’t have to be overwhelmed by their emotions; they can be more objective and choose the best option for them at that moment.
Take The Power Back
Most importantly, young people can better understand that how they are feeling is not who they are but something that can be managed.
They still have the responsibility. They can’t let their inner chimp run wild without consequences!
But, they can understand that their inner chimp is not a reflection of who they are and who they want to be.
As Professor Steve Peters explains,
“To work out who you really are as a person is easy to do. If you wrote a list of all the things you would like to be, you may write things like calm, compassionate, reasonable, positive, confident and happy, then this is who you really are. Any deviation from this is a hijacking by the chimp.”
We’d love to hear how you get on with this inner chimp strategy.
However, if you need any support with the process or helping your child to better regulate their emotions, we’re always here to help.
Get in touch with the team to find out more or to book your free consultation.