Parenting relationships are another often difficult but incredibly rewarding place to use coaching skills. Far, far too often we take the role of boss, telling our children what to do, how to do it, and even what to think or believe about the world around them. Although sometimes telling is necessary, you’d be amazed at the number of times you can use coaching skills to help your children arrive at their own perfectly good conclusions.
Can you coach your kids?
Let’s take an example of a 16-year-old girl who seems to be having some difficulty with her boyfriend. And let’s pretend you are her mother. What you might want to say is something like, “You should break up with him. It’s obviously not going well, and there are other fish in the sea.” For those of you who have teenagers, how do you think that advice would be received?
Exactly. She’s much more likely to lash out at you and stick with him, even if deep down she sees your point. First of all, it’s coming from a parent. Second, it’s telling your daughter what she should do. Third, she did not appear to have invited your feedback.
How to coach your kids
What about doing something like this instead? “It seems like you’re having some difficulty. I’ve heard of this set of questions that is supposed to help with decision-making and getting clarify. Would it be okay if I just asked you these questions and we can see they are helpful? I won’t give any advice, just ask questions.”
If she agrees, here are the questions:
- What’s going well?
- What’s not going well?
- What have you learned?
- What needs to change?
- What’s next?
Note their unbiased and un-leading nature. A teenager, answering these questions honestly, might come to the conclusion that a breakup is in order. But she might equally come to the conclusion that a few simple tweaks are needed and could be addressed through a conversation. Asking questions and listening leaves the power and the decision-making entirely with her, which is where it belongs.
Does it work with younger kids?
Sure! The same basic principle could apply to a 6-year-old having a fight with a friend. You could ask, “What happened?” “What is your friend saying happened?” “What are some ways you could solve this problem?” “Which of those sounds best to you?” “How will you do it?”
Coaching after the fact
The temptation as a parent to tell your kids what to do and to try to make their choices for them is strong. In many cases, you do know what the best answer is. But if you tell them what to do, not only will they not have any real ownership over their decisions, but they will never have the advantage of being able to learn from their mistakes.
Sometimes the best coaching takes the form of a post-mortem after a situation really goes badly. “What happened?” “What did you learn?” “What will you choose to do differently next time?” “What steps can you take now to try to repair the situation?”
Coaching helps kids take ownership
Ultimately, your kids’ choices are their own. And your role as a parent is to move them slowly toward independence and good decision-making skills as they get older. That starts early—as soon as they learn to talk. Sure, protect them from the big stuff: they don’t have the choice to run out into traffic. But they do have the choice to knock over someone else’s block tower and see what happens. Protect them from major bodily harm… but not from all consequences.
Eventually, all of their choices will be their own, and you—along with all the other empty-nest parents—will be left with the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Control is an idol, as well as an illusion.
Rather, try to serve as a support to your children. “What do you want out of going to that party?” “What are some ways you can stay safe?” “What do you want your life to look like?” “What steps can you take to move it in that direction?”
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