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Coach your kids

60Parents can benefit by looking at themselves as coaches who build life skills. In an extract from her book, a family therapist and psychologist prescribes a gentler approach.We measure our worth according to how well the children fit into those dreams. If they fall short, we feel cheated, angry, depressed and wonder ‘Why me?’ We feel inadequate and, in our anxiety, react by cranking up our resentment towards our children. We become judgemental, critical and comparative. And, therefore, get stuck in a spiral of negativity. Before we know it, unhealthy patterns of a lifetime get carved out. A long time back I came across this book titled, Stop Parenting, Start Coaching and I really loved the title.It resonated so deeply with my belief that our role as parents is to help our children build life skills. Here are seven steps to highly effective coaching.CLEAR GOAL’What is the one skill I want to nurture in my child which will help her become a more healthy, responsible, independent and happy human being?’ Depending on the age of the child, it could range from eating well, sleeping on her own, staying fit, doing less screen, being more organised, managing time better, being financially savvy, getting better grades, being more communicative, articulate, confident, happy, sociable, respectful, emotionally balanced, focused and so on and so forth. We would all like that in our children. It makes our work easier as parents and feels good to boot. However, just start with one or two skills. Make it very specific. Rather than making good habits a goal as it is too vague, be more specific and narrow it down to one or, maybe, two activities. For example, clear up the bathroom after using it or go and play in the park every day.Rate it on a scale of 0 to 10 where 5 is in the middle’Where is my child right now in that skill?”Where does he need to be?”What is the one step he needs to take that will help him move one point up in that scale?”What would I need to do to help him move one step further?These are extremely important questions as they help you clarify the goal and establish the next step forward, for you and for your child. For example, you want your child to get better grades. You might identify that on the scale he is at 3 where the goal is 8. I would always suggest that you stay away from making 10 as a goal as it will then make you seek perfection (which I think is a huge problem) and establish extremely high expectations (for a child who is at 3 right now). The next step that you might think would work in helping him move to 4 would be to make him sit down and study for an extra half hour every day. You might want to keep yourself free around that time so that you could provide him some level of ‘scaffolding’ till he is ready to sit and work on his own.ASK INSTEAD OF TELLINGWe are constantly telling children what they need to do and not ask them as much as is required what they would want to do. So, you could sit down with your child and ask, ‘Are you happy with your grades right now? Do you think you are putting in enough time? How can I help you in this?’ Make sure you ask without sounding sarcastic or angry.DRAW UP A PLANFor any change to happen you would have to get down and draw up a clear plan. So you might want to first make sure that your connect with your child is solid and strong.Then you might want to sit with him and ask him a few questions regarding how he feels about his grades. Initially, he might show a bit of his rebellious child (I hate studying, it is so boring); listen to him, empathise with it (I know it can be a drag sometimes. I remember feeling like that), but bring him back to the issue (I can understand you find it boring but we still need to do it).After being listened to and understanding your point of view, he might agree that he needs to work on his grades too. That’s when you need to gently work out a plan of action. Make sure you don’t make it too overwhelming and remember he is at 3 and we just want him to move up to 4 and not 8. Work out when he could take out that hour for studying, where he would like to study, with whom, how, etc.RHYTHMS AND ROUTINESWhen we lived in England, I heard a very experienced nanny say once, ‘There is nothing like a bad child, there are just bad routines!’ It sounds a bit drastic but there is a lot of truth in that statement. I do believe that if children follow a clear routine then you have already won half the battle. Routines give a rhythm and flow to the day. If a child knows that after school she can relax for an hour followed by homework time at 4 p.m., playtime from 5 to 7 p.m. and then bath, dinner, reading in bed and lights off at 9 p.m., then chances of her following it every day without much protest are higher. However, if there is no clear routine and the homework can be done anytime she chooses or dinner time changes every day, then she might push things around as she deems fit and everything might turn into a battle ground. It could vary during the holidays when you make it more flexible with timings that can be stretched a little like ‘get ready and finish breakfast by 10 a.m.’ or ‘finish homework before going to the park in the evening’. Teenagers can be given a choice in making their own time schedule with some basic expectations outlined by you.I would also like to point out that it is most important that as parents we also need to follow a routine before we start advocating it to our children. Do remember that children have very sensitive hypocrisy radars.RECOGNITIONSRecognitions are a very powerful tool in parenting. They are about acknowledging and celebrating the child in front of you. It is about building in the child a sense of worthiness that is authentic and genuine. It is not about praising and making them feel good about themselves but about recognising and valuing every trait and skill that you want to nurture in them.The former makes them feel they have to please, perform and be perfect in order to get appreciation, whereas the latter builds a solid sense of ‘I am valued for who I am right now’. So let’s see how recognitions can be used as a coaching tool too. Take an example of a child who is being trained to be more organised.On a scale of 0 to 10, she is on 3 and needs to reach 6:• Through active recognitions you could highlight the child every time you see her put her things in the proper place: ‘I see you have put the books in your school bag.’• By giving value recognitions you could focus on the skills you want to help build in your child: ‘I saw you put the toothbrush and toothpaste back in the mug. I see that your organisational muscles are becoming stronger.’• Proactive recognitions could be used to highlight the exceptions: ‘I did notice that rather than throwing the towel on the floor, you hung it back on the peg. I think the towel looks really happy!’• Finally, creative recognitions to showcase little opportunities for success. So, after baking a cake, both of you could clear up the kitchen together and you could tell others how your little one ‘was so helpful in cleaning up and putting everything back where it belonged’.Therefore, through recognitions, the child is able to see and build another side to her identity, which is just not ‘messy’, ‘disorganised’, ‘chaotic’ but also ‘organised’ and ‘careful with her things’. We have to water the wholesome seeds rather than just the negativity seeds of lack, deficit and what’s wrong.EXTERNALISATIONHowever, you might want to address the ‘problem’ sometimes, but how can you do that without the child feeling attacked. In Narrative Therapy, we use an approach pioneered by the late Michael White called Externalisation. Through this approach, we place the problem outside the child rather than within him and give it a name. So, for example, if the child is struggling with anger we might call the problem Anger and talk to the child as if the Anger was separate from him. So the questions statements might go as, ‘Did you see how Anger was controlling you yesterday?’ (It is best to do this when the child is calm and more receptive.) I think Anger is really troubling you nowadays in the evening.’ ‘Can you make out when Anger is coming close?’ It might seem a little bizarre but children take to this slight change in language and approach very well. Personifying feelings, difficulties, imaginations and fantasies come very easily to them. Do remember you have to be consistent in this approach otherwise you might end up confusing the child.If you feel unsure about it or after trying it you feel it does not work, just drop it. It needs practice and a way of thinking (the problem is the problem, the child is not the problem) that does not come easily to most of us. The best part of externalisation is that it can be tried with so many issues -anger, tantrums, crankiness, bed-wetting, soiling, laziness, procrastination, etc. I remember when my daughter was little she was going through a phase when she would become a little whiny at times when she was tired or hungry. We would playfully call that mood ‘Chimpu’ and there was much talk about how Chimpu’ was troubling Anya and what we needed to do to make it run away and leave Anya alone. This was a sure way to get her giggling and in her usual bubbly, happy mood soon.Mumbai Mirror |