Andy Campbell suggests that a little coaching insight can go a long way when it comes to connecting with your children
“I just don’t know what to say!”
“They just don’t listen!”
“They never seem to know what they want!”
Parenting can be tough. Despite what best selling authors like to tell us, there’s no manual written that is perfectly tailored to who your child is, and how you can best support them as they grow.
Our children have an unnerving ability to change as they grow too — just when you think you have the hang of who and how they are, the goalposts move and the tried and tested techniques of parenting are suddenly blunt and ineffective.
The teenage years are, arguably, a particularly tricky time for everyone concerned. (We have three under our roof as I write this!). Just as the adolescent body is changing, so is the adolescent mind and ways of experiencing the world around them. Simplistic ways of thinking are challenged and no longer sufficient. There is a movement from being seen as someone’s child into a place of emerging and owned identity. Mistakes are made, risks taken and the stories constructed about who the individual is which become defining and all important.
As our children grow and change, so we will benefit from daring to grow and change alongside them.
As a coach I am admittedly biased, but I am convinced that the principles and practices of coaching can bring real and significant benefit to our children and our relationship with them, particularly as they grow older. But what do I mean by ‘coaching’?
What is coaching?
Coaching is a broad church (sometimes confused with mentoring), but the essential aim of all coaches is that the individual or group they are supporting will grow in an understanding of who they are and their place in the world, authentically celebrate their strengths and gifts, notice where change would be beneficial, and identify what the next key step might be.
Coaches will do this by deliberately walking alongside the other, rather than telling them how or where they should progress. Growth and movement are encouraged rather than demanded.
Each real and potential step is noticed and reflected upon, with questions (rather than statements) used to gently challenge negative assumptions, stories being told or possibility limited.
Both parents and young people can find such space challenging and difficult. Young people are used to a more directive approach, with most adults in their life having some form of agenda for their interactions — at school, at church, even at home. Parents can be concerned about the risks of allowing their children to make different choices to those we might ourselves make.
As adults, it can be easy for us to assume that we know what the young person needs or even wants — and they can get used to being told the same. When we show a genuine interest in them, we ask questions to help them dig deeper into things they take for granted of have never challenged, we create a world of possibilities and hope for them to explore.
How do you use questions?
The questions we ask have real power. Closed questions, or those which seem to have simplistic ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers might backfire. A teen who feels they are being led to a desired conclusion will almost always rebel — it just might not be obvious. Open questions, especially those where there is no pressure to formulate a perfect answer immediately, will often lead to reflection and revelation. Sometimes the simple question is the most powerful, try gently repeating ‘never’ when your teen next says something like “I never get it right!”
Silence in a conversation can be uncomfortable or frustrating for both parent and child, but it can also be a crucible for deeper reflection, insight, correction of assumptions and recognition of false narratives. Consciously reassuring our young people they don’t need to have a ready answer for everything immediately is a precious and sometimes rare gift.
Coaches often help their clients work towards goals, and it is a very common part of that process to help the client break down the big and impossible into small and manageable. There are a myriad of techniques to do this — find one or more that work for you, and help your child negotiate the process. Recognising and challenging assumptions is also key here — it can be equally important to be honest about the work needed to achieve a goal as it is to articulate where the possible has been wrongly assumed impossible.
Perhaps the most significant way coaching-informed parenting can bring benefit to all involved is a gentle reminder that the parent does not have all the answers or power, but is also on a journey of discovery. This can be scary, but properly understood it is a place of power and potential. The child who is confident their parent is cheering them on will be the one who grows most in self-awareness and confidence.