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Thinking about Thinking

Thoughts on thinking about thinking from the Raising Thinkers Series


Are you the parent you want to be?

Tremaine du Preez

Mentor, lecturer or coach?  

Executive coaching is solving some of the toughest corporate people challenges, can it do the same for parenting?

Parent Coaching.JPG

Are you an enabler; someone who helps others shine? Or a mentor; someone who gives great advice when asked? Or maybe a lecturer who tells colleagues how to doing things. Do you hog the limelight or step aside for your team at the awards dinner? Whatever you are, I’m betting it reflects your parenting style too. Of course, you probably love your kids more than you love your co-workers and your motives to succeed at work and at parenting will vary. But how you get things done and get big and little people to do things for you, is just that, your way.  Go on, join the dots, you’ll see what I mean.

Are you expected to coach your colleagues? 

Almost everywhere I work team leaders are expected to make the shift from lecturer to coach, or at the very least, to mentor subordinates. Companies are training leaders as coaches because it’s proving to be a lucrative strategy. It works, engages staff and helps them solve their own problems, faster. What if we could parent like coaches? Would we get the same results? 

Isn’t parenting coaching anyway?

No. A leader, executive coach or a sports coach will train in the art of coaching. Just as a teacher must learn how to teach effectively because being a subject matter expert doesn’t guarantee that you can impart knowledge. A good coach will get you thinking in new and interesting ways about your behaviour, your thinking and your potential. You won’t learn anything from an executive coach but will have to answer uncomfortable, probing questions and face some hard truths. Coaching will teach you more about yourself than you knew before.  

As a parent you can decide to act as a lecturer, a mentor or a coach. There will be plenty of lecturers in your child’s life, lots of mentors too but there will be very few true coaches. Of course, at times your knowledge is invaluable and mentoring is the right thing to do. But mentoring does not need to define the relationship you have with your child. It can be a beautiful fluid mix between supporting your child as a coach and leading them as a mentor.

Verbal bullying and putting parent coaching to the test

How do we coach a child? My son is physically small when compared to most boys his age. He’s not particularly sporty or physical on the playground either. So when he wants to join in the rougher games he sometimes gets pushed around. Bullying is not tolerated at his school so it takes different forms that are far more subtle than a shove or a punch. Verbal bullying, exclusion from games and other pursuits of emotional cruelty are dished out by children who don’t yet understand the impact of their behaviour. From about 6 years old, there would be days when my son came home in tears. Crying about the hurtful things some boys (and sometimes girls) had said to him. 

I couldn’t complain to the teacher every time a nasty name was flung at him. I also had no doubt that he was doing some name calling himself. Reacting to this and trying to solve it for him every single time was not going to help him. I also couldn’t mentor him because I had no experience with this. But I did know that I needed to build up my little boy’s internal resilience. Lecturing him not to react to the name calling was silly. What he needed was a system for dealing with this. Both during and afterwards. A way of making him feel OK about it that also didn’t deplete his ego. So the coach in me got to work.

A coaching conversation 

As he sat on the rocking chair in my study on a day that he was in a reasonable mood, I brought up the last incident of verbal bullying on the school bus. No lecturing, no mentoring just questioning to helping him find his own solution.

Me:   How did you feel about what the boy said to you? 

Him: Very angry.

Me:   So he called you a baby (insert any other here)? Is it true, are you a baby? 

Him:  No.

Me:   Why did it make you angry then, if you know it’s not true? 

Him:  Because everyone else heard him say it.

Me:   Could you have stopped him from saying it?

Him:  No.

Me:   Do you think you reacted in the right way?

(He had sworn at the kid and got into trouble too.)

Him:  No, but I didn’t know what else to say. I was so cross.

Me:   What would you have liked to do differently?

Him: To say something that makes me sound cool instead. And that won’t get me into trouble.

Me:  OK, would you like to have something that you can say again and again that sounds really cool?

Him: Yes. Oh yes. What can I say?

Me:   Well, you tell me! What can you say every time someone calls you a name? A few words that sound smart and don’t get you into trouble?

I asked him to go away and think about what he can say next time he is in this position. He wanted to come up with something that sounds calm but will also let the ‘bully’ know that he can’t hurt him with words. So he came up with a brilliant suggestion that he still uses today. He says: “You may think that I’m a …(nerd/baby) etc., but that doesn’t make me one.” And if he’s really angry or doesn’t have time to think or centre himself, he simply takes a deep breath and says; “Well, it’s a good thing that I don’t care what you think about me.” It takes real courage for a small boy to say this to anyone who is overpowering them with words. So we practiced this, out loud, several times at home.  Now he can say it without thinking about it. When he feels himself getting angry, this phrase comes to mind. 

As he gets older our tactics will have to evolve to meet more mature challenges. But he knows I will always look to him to think about how he wants to handle situations, before I mentor him in how I would do it. I’m proud to be a parent coach. I coach my little boy with the exact same skills that I use with CEO’s of multinational companies wrestling with multimillion dollar problems. It works. Mostly because my son is learning that through our dialogue, he can think of ways to solve his own problems. Soon he’ll be able to self coach on the simpler issues. He is already encouraging his friends to stop and think before they get angry!

Next week: Dealing with difficult school reports the critical thinking way.

Follow Tremaine on Facebook for weekly thoughts on thinking and raising your children as critical thinkers.


Note on coaching vs mentoring

A mentor is someone who knows more about what you do than you do. Someone with experience in your job. A good mentor is invaluable when one needs advice, opinions or insights into specific subjects. A coach generally knows very little about what you do and should not be in a position to tell you what to do or give you advice but rather guide you to discover your own strategy.