Keith Gilbert (Grad.Cert.NLP) is the author and presenter of Neuro-Linguistic Parenting; a workshop on how to apply Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) to Parenting. Keith also runs his own counselling and life coaching practice using NLP.

Welcome Keith, what question/s do people ask most when trying to understand what Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is about?
In terms of the life coaching and counselling work that I have done the questions that people have asked me are;

“Is it like psychology?” and, “Does it have something to do with hypnosis?”

How do you choose to answer these questions?
When people have asked me whether NLP is like psychology I have asked them, “What do you know about psychology?” Almost without exception the response has been vague like, “Well, psychology is about human behavior… why people behave in certain ways.”

And I have responded with, “OK. Then I guess NLP is a little like psychology except that the domain of NLP, the focus of NLP, is the modelling of excellence.” Specifically, what are the differences between the skills and strategies of a person whose performance at a task could be described as mediocre or average and the skills and strategies of another person who performs the same task with exceptional competence and artistry?

So NLP is about developing skills and strategies in pursuit of excellence?
Yes. And unique to NLP are the tools for engaging the unconscious mind so that it can do what it does best, that is, model tacit knowledge. To put that another way, from an NLP perspective I am more interested in observing a person doing something well as opposed to asking them how they think they do something well … which presupposes that they are not doing it while Im asking them about it; they are not fully engaged in the activity.

How are “models of excellence” identified using NLP?
Any person who does something particularly well is a potential model worth modelling for anyone who wants to be able to perform the same task/behaviour/activity more than competently.

So NLP is not really like psychology at all….
They are alike in that they study human behaviour. And that is where the similarities end. The focus of NLP is excellence or exceptional performance. The focus of psychology is the average. Psychology uses statistics to explain what the average person might do in a situation. But what if you wanted to learn how to influence your children in exceptional ways so that you encouraged them to develop wisdom and their own personal genius? Obviously you could not use psychology as there is absolutely no way of making explicit a model of excellence in parenting by averaging across a group of people. To put that another way, studying the average cannot tell you how an individual performs with excellence. To influence your children in exceptional ways you could learn NLP as the focus is excellence.

What similarity does NLP have with hypnosis?
Well, in NLP terms, hypnosis is the natural ability to go from one state of mind to another. We, each and every one of us, change mental state many times in a day. Driving the car, playing with our children, gazing at the level counter in an elevator, attending a business meeting, when we are at work, watching TV,… we will be in a different state of mind in each of these situations.

If you think that hypnosis is when youre sitting in a chair and your eyes get heavy and the hypnotist tells you to give up smoking or lose weight or cluck like a chicken when she clicks her fingers, well… that particular state of mind, in terms of NLP, is just one of many that a person can access. No mystery, just a natural human ability, and the ability to change our state of mind is absolutely essential for improving the way that we relate to our children.

Hypnosis and psychology are fields of study that many people tend to fear and misunderstand. It would seem that NLP suffers a similar public image. Do you have any further comments?
Imagine, if you will, a hammer. I can use a hammer to build a house and I can also use a hammer to assault a person with malicious intent. It is interesting when you suggest that some people fear hypnosis, psychology and NLP, but they are just tools made from an intangible substance called information. How the tools are used depends on intent. How is it that people can come to fear a tool? Would it not make more sense to say that people can come to fear those who use the tool with questionable intent?

I can put this another way. No matter what material a person may learn, what courses they attend, exams they may pass, nothing can tell you what ethics a person might be operating from except their behaviour.

Are there “ideal candidates” for NLP or is it applicable to all?
NLP is the study of how people know what they think they know and how they do what they do (as opposed to why they do what they do). It is applicable to anyone who wants to learn, and learn how to learn.

So we could say that NLP is a tool that enables people to change their behaviour?

What do parents learn through NLP?
This is an interesting question. The short answer is… I dont know. Every person has their own beliefs (filters) about how the world functions and how to function in it. Then these same people rock up to an NLP course and, in my experience, one of two things happen;

1. They learn the NLP processes and then go away and do it to other people in therapeutic, business, artistic, sport, educational, religious, and family contexts.


2. They realise that they can also apply the processes to themselves to move beyond the constraints that their families and our society have encouraged them to believe.

So… NLP processes can be used to explore beliefs (ie, constraints to experiencing any and all of the sensual delights that life has to offer) but if a person has invested enormously in their beliefs then they may learn the NLP processes but will not necessarily apply the processes to themselves.

To give you an example, one of the people I trained with, upon hearing of my desire to develop Neuro-Linguistic Parenting (NLParenting), said,

“Children mean relationship break up!” I looked at her and asked,

“Given that you are training in NLP are you at all interested in doing something about that limiting belief, that limited way of thinking?” To which she replied,

“No. What for? Its true.”

“Have you considered that relationship break up is perhaps a consequence of a lack of skill on the part of the parents?”

“No, no, Keith. Ive seen it happen too many times. Its the children.”

That is almost word for word as I burned it in memory. People have done the most bizarre things in order to maintain a sense of static stability… even when given an opportunity to expand their model of the world with the precision tools to be found in NLP.

NLP was begun by Dr John Grinder and Richard Bandler in the mid 1970s and Neuro-Linguistic Parenting (developed by my wife Edwina Gilbert, my mother Margaret Gilbert and me since 1999) seems to be somewhat unique in its exploration of NLP as an epistemology for parents. For me this is evidenced by the discussions I have had on the Natural Parenting community forums and NLP forums.

Do you see NLP as compatible with Natural Parenting ideals such as Attachment Parenting, gentle discipline and informed choice?
NLP is an epistemology and so cannot be substantive. That is, it cannot offer or suggest ideals or side with one ideal over another. It is a means for exploring how you know what you think you know, and how what you think you know motivates your behaviour.

If this is not a satisfactory answer then I invite you to answer the following questions: “What is an ideal?”, or “What is a belief?” You will discover in every case that ideals or beliefs are limited ways of thinking. If I were to have an ideal or belief about parenting then I would influence my daughters to limit themselves. This may seem strange to some of your readers but ideals and beliefs are not the best that we can do.

OK, so NLP doesnt prescribe any single parenting ideology, but identifying models of parenting excellence and practicing the skills and tactics that progress us to excellence does tend to lead us towards more gentle and respectful parenting. How is it that this occurs?
When I consider my relationship with my daughters I think, if I have exceptional resources to offer and my daughter has exceptional resources to offer, then together we can create extraordinary moments of closeness and creativity. If one or both of us have limitations in our thinking then our experiences together must be limited and we will influence each other to limit ourselves. In my experience, when a parent appreciates that children can learn to live their lives as they please then that is the ultimate form of respect and children are free to excel at anything they put their minds to.

It is interesting that we can only give what we have. If we carry limitations around then how can we respect a child? It would be incongruent to even suggest it was possible. I am learning to respect my children only because of the work I have done to reduce the limits in my own thinking. The more freedom I have to think and do as I please, the more I realise that my children have that freedom too.

You refer to NLP “processes”. What do these entail?
To describe the processes would take a book. Put simply, NLP processes are tools of thought that allow you to do two things;

1. Change the ways that you have coded (ie, formed mental maps from what you see, hear, feel, smell and taste) experiences. An example might be depression. How has a person coded certain experiences in his or her life such that they are continually re-presenting those experiences to themselves, at the unconscious level, and so continually accessing the state of mind we call depression? When people learn how to manipulate those internal representations they can change them in such a way that they can learn to focus their attention on more pleasurable things.

2. Build a relationship with your unconscious. Behind every behaviour is an intention motivating it. If you have been doing a behaviour habitually, a behaviour that you do not like, but after many attempts at stopping the behaviour consciously discover that any changes you make are short lived, then the problem lies in your unconscious. By setting up clear communication with your unconscious you can invite your unconscious to generate options for satisfying the intention behind the behaviour. The reason people find it difficult to change unwanted behaviors is that they have no relationship with their unconscious, the part of them that is actually driving the behavior, and so no means for creating new and different options from which to choose. It is that simple. They dont know how to generate options for satisfying intent.

If people have invested enormously in their beliefs, what might they experience when they discover those beliefs are not serving them and their family like they thought?
As an NLP practitioner I have never assisted or encouraged clients to change beliefs directly. Instead, they ask for assistance with changing behaviour and the changes they experience have, in some cases, been profound enough that they reorganise themselves unconsciously and some time down the track realise that they are not as dogmatic about that particular belief. You could say that their experience, over time, was one of greater flexibility and adaptability.

I found this succinct definition on a website. Perhaps youd like to comment further or provide an anecdote that will help readers identify the nature of NLParenting in practice?

“NLP studies the way people take in information from the world, how they describe it to themselves with their senses, filter it with their beliefs and values, and act on the result. In summary there is a person, their descriptions and the world; and NLP studies the relationships between them.”

NLP Glossary from A to Z – Accessing cues to Well-formed outcome,

From the moment we are born, if not before, we begin to create a model of the world, that is, we build up a sensory rich description of how we can manipulate the world around us and the results or consequences of those actions.

At every point in time we are learning to choose what we want. From an NLParenting perspective the roles of a parent are; to manipulate contexts so that children can play (learn) in relative safety and to model or demonstrate exceptional behaviour and congruence.

I developed NLParenting for myself. I realised that if I were to bring a child into the world then I would be influencing that child according to limitations within my model of the world. Having explored my model in some detail during my training in NLP I realised that my influence, if I did nothing to change my way of thinking, would be extremely limiting. If all I have is a limited way of thinking then I would influence my children to limit themselves; I can only give what I have. This situation was unacceptable.

My desire was to evolve my mind, and evidence for me that I was indeed evolving is that I would be influencing our children to develop wisdom (the ability to appreciate the potential consequences of action taken) and the freedom to live life as they please.

There are only two types of parenting; congruent (you can do as I do and live life as you want) and incongruent (do as I say). NLParenting is the only approach to parenting that I am aware of that has as its main goal the dissemination of the necessary processes and information to assist parents in achieving personal congruence (it would be impossible to influence my children in exceptional ways if I did not work towards my own personal congruence). This requires learning how we “take in information from the world, how we describe it to ourselves with our senses, filter it with our values, and act on the result.” A natural consequence, then, of this desire to develop personal congruence through the processes found in NLParenting is the appreciation of the option to relate to children with the attitude “You can do as I do and live life as you want.” Interestingly, the emergence of a coherent culture is impossible any other way as such a culture can only result from choice. Now THAT is exciting to think about!

So drawing comparisons to other mind-body practices (would you define NLP so?) such as yoga, you would say greater benefit comes from making it a practice rather than a solely intellectual pursuit?
Would I define NLP as a mind-body practice? Absolutely not. Since there is no mind independent of the body, NLP cannot be said to be a mind-body practice.

Then would you say greater benefit comes from making it a practice?
Drawing on your comparison to yoga, only reading about yoga will not get you the strength and suppleness that the practice of yoga will provide you. The same goes for NLP. If you only read about it then you will not be able to have the full sensory experience.

Why cant we just read about it and understand it?
Im going to assume that by understanding you mean the ability to apply what is learned. There is nothing that says you cant read something and then actually give it a go. Its in the doing that you discover whether you know the material or not. In your attempts to put into practice that which you have read you will discover whether or not you know what you are doing. If you can apply the processes directly from material that you have read then you could say that you understand.

Having said that, in my experience NLP requires training with someone who knows what they are doing. Reading books is fun but doing NLP with people is more fun….. and I can learn more too!

You can read about something… but until you do it and reach some sort of competency can you really say that you understand?