Parentisms: The Master Programmers

Ever thought about all the stuff you are teaching your children about life, themselves, and the world every single day?

Well this is just a little reminder for us all that we parents play a central role in creating the manner in which our children see themselves and the world for their entire lives. We give them the framework for understanding all that follows in their lives, and we do so at an age when they are unconsciously absorbing everything that happens to them without thought of or even the ability to shield themselves. So, in essence (and to crudely misuse a metaphor), we are the programmers of our children’s hard drives.

They come wired for certain tendencies, and they develop the capacity to perform innumerable actions, but we create the code that they will run until they are old enough or wise enough to rewrite the portions they dislike (usually well into their adulthood). And until or unless they are able to reprogram themselves, they will be “mindlessly” running the programs we put in today. So it makes sense for us to be conscious and conscientious about what we’re putting in there, right?

Look at it this way, do we really want to program our kids with things like:

  • “You’re so silly!” “…goofy” or “…dorky”
  • Or with, “You’re not being niiice…”, “Don’t be naauughty…”, or “Poorsport!”
  • Or with, “You’re so fussy”, “You’re so sensitive”, or “You’re always ill.”
  • Or with, “Why are you being so bossy?”, “Why won’t you do as I tell you?” or “When are you gonna learn?!”
  • Or with, “Grumpy!”, “Messy!”, “Sleepyhead!”, or “Butterfingers.”
  • Or with “You can’t do that”, “It’ll never work”, or “Go ahead and waste your time.”

Taken together like this, and in the context of thinking of ourselves as being our kids’ programmers, it’s easy to see that we are more involved in framing our children’s understanding about themselves than we might otherwise be conscious of doing. In everyday life, on the other hand, it’s just as easy (if not easier) to forget the larger picture and react in the moment either with a reflex comment programmed into us by our own parents, or with “a joke”, or (out of desperation or frustration) with a coercive jab designed to get the kid to comply with our will. When we aren’t paying close attention to what we are programming into our kids, then we are most likely passing on the programming that we got as kids and that we haven’t yet attempted to or been successful in reprogramming.

It takes some conscientious self-monitoring to catch our programming before it virally moves on to our kids’ main frames. But if we want to afford them the best possible opportunities to live with a healthy view of themselves, and a positive framework for understanding the world, then we would do well to be that conscientious, and that intentional. It takes a little while to reprogram our own auto-responses, but I think we can all agree, it’s well worth the effort.


Be well, my fellow codecreators.


For more on this subject, look here.


About Nathan M McTague, CPCC, CPDPE

I am a full-time parent of three, Writer, Life Coach, Lecturer, Parenting Mentor, and Shamanic Practitioner. In all of the above, I am seeking to assist my fellow humans in their processes of claiming and unleashing their highest potentials.
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7 Responses to Parentisms: The Master Programmers

  1. Jeff Silvey says:

    Thanks for this post. Great thoughts.

    “…but we create the code that they will run until they are old enough or wise enough to rewrite the portions they dislike (usually well into their adulthood). ” Kids are like the original “Tron,” crude programs that output pretty much only what was input. Eventually, they will grow up and be like Neo at the end of “The Matrix,” able to change their programming at will [not exactly and not easily, but you know what I mean 😉 ]. We just have to remember that it will be a long time before they get to be Neo, so we have to be careful what gets input into their systems.

    • Truly, Jeffrey. Thanks for fleshing that out a bit. My hope is that if we are conscious enough with what we put in, we can give our kids a better chance at reaching their own Neo stage sooner, stronger, and more completely.

      Thanks for joining in the discussion!

      Be well.

  2. So true and yet…have you read the book Nurture Shock?
    Also we use the distinction between hard-teasing which is hurtful and destructive and soft-teases which are inclusive and bonding and help the children laugh at themselves when they do something a bit silly. It’s a lot to do with delivery and having a strong attachment in the first place, of course. And we always comment on the ‘behaviour’ rather than the child…not “you’re silly” but “that was a silly thing to do.”

    • Yes, Karyn, I agree that there is a distinction worth making there, but you know me, I always play to center field since I know the audience is not likely to be — well, someone like you…

      I think there is plenty of room for having fun, and playing, and enjoying the humor in the things we all do. But I seriously don’t want to give my girls any reason to by shy, stoic, or embarrassed by my actions or teasing. My father wasn’t known for calling people names, but his teasing was such that I never wanted him to notice my actions for fear that I would become his humor target. (No offense, Pop).

      And, absolutely, if you’re going to name something “Silly”, etc., I agree that it should be actions and not people. I also happen to think that this is a decent way to live life (not just parent my kids). I think our judgments limit us. But that’s a different blog post all together…

      Good hearing from you, Karyn!

      Be well.

  3. I hear you about your response to your father’s teasing. I think there are plenty of adults, men in particular, who don’t know how to give a soft-tease. I certainly step in when someone is teasing our children inappropriately and either explain the joke or brush it aside for them. Shielding them until they can manage for themselves I guess.

  4. hakea says:

    We have a ‘no put-downs’ rule in our house. The kids call us on it when we break the rule too.

    I also have that rule in the programmes I run in the community. Keeps everyone emotionally safe.

    • Nice one, Narelle. We have a similar understanding in our home.

      I think it’s tough, though, for some to distinguish between a joke and a put-down. It’s all “just fooling around”, but the kids are very seriously a/effected…

      And for parents especially, I think there are some words/comments that they just don’t realize are pigeon-holing, disempowering, or upsetting to their children. I’ve heard innocent parents on the playground teasing with the mantra, “Who’s my silly girl? Who’s my silly girl?”. They simply haven’t thought about, or considered the ramifications, of programming ideas like that into the heads of their children. And as a Life Coach, I’ve worked with client after client who harkens back to some variety of programming s/he received as a kid about her/himself. Most of the ones who think they aren’t “good enough” find something or someone in their pasts that told them such.

      A parent could, of course, get carried away with being constantly über-conscious about it, but most people are in no danger of that. 😉

      Thanks for joining in, Narelle.

      Be well.


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