One of my greatest fears upon marrying a “nice guy” was that I would become the “disciplinarian” and he’d become, or rather remain, the “nice guy.”
Dang. It happened!
Ironically, the thing that pushed me even farther in to the “disciplinarian” role was . . . can you guess it?
Yup, my old friend, Fear. . . Fear that my kids would grow up to be homeless and broke, rude and irresponsible, simply disrespectful, or worst of all: lazy!
Oh how amazing it was for me to discover Professional Coaching and Positive Discipline all at once. It was a way out of the narrow and unsatisfying role as “disciplinarian” and into a new one that felt so freeing and empowering for everyone involved: “coach!”
So what’s the difference? I think the main difference between “coach” and “disciplinarian” is that a coach’s role is much more flexible. While a disciplinarian comes down hard when you’ve messed up, a coach can do so much more.
Think of the most awesome coach you ever had (or if you didn’t have an awesome coach, think about someone who was very encouraging to you.) What did they do? What did they say? Perhaps your answers look something like this:
- they really cared about me
- they listened to me
- they believed in me
- they focused my strengths and my potential
- they taught me new skills
- they cheered me on from the sidelines without stepping in to the do work for me
- they held me accountable to my goals and dreams
Bottom line: coaches are encouraging! And as Rudolf Dreikurs, a pioneer of “Positive Discipline” noted, “Each child needs continuous encouragement just as a plant needs water.”
Here are 5 ways to move from disciplinarian to coach. Watch your child blossom as a result!
1. Listen more and better. “When another person is totally with you – leaning in, interested in every word, eager to empathize – you feel known and understood.” — Co-Active Coaching, 3rd Edition. Coaches know that listening well accomplishes so many goals:
- it builds connection and trust
- it signals to the child that he is worthy of being heard
- it helps us understand the root cause of the problem / situation
Parents frequently lament that their kids “just don’t listen.” But perhaps that’s because we haven’t modeled what real listening looks and feels like. The next time your child has something to say to you, if at all possible, stop what you’re doing, get down at his level, and look him in the eye and model what listening is all about.
2. Focus on your client’s potential, rather than her weakness. If you see your child as irresponsible, incompetent, or unmotivated, you will notice everything they’re doing wrong and try to correct it. This is a very discouraging model for growth.
On the other hand, when you shine the spotlight on that tiny seed of strength or success, that seed inevitably grows. My own example is when I decided to stop pointing out every mistake my daughter was making while practicing her piano, and instead focus on what was going right. (As a former piano teacher, this was particularly hard for me!)
When I shifted my focus this way, “Wow, you really stuck with that piece. I heard how you kept working that same measure, over and over again, until you got it,” she literally beamed. She held her head high and thumped her chest with her fist. Yes! She did rock it, and there’s nothing more motivating that being noticed for something going right.
3. Focus on solutions and the future rather than problems and the past. A disciplinarian thinks, “what’s wrong with him?” or “he can’t do that and get away with it!” A coach thinks, “what does he need in order to be successful?” or “what made it difficult for him to do the right thing?”
Coaches tend to view mistakes as opportunities to learn rather than as reasons for blame, shame, and punishment. They put their focus on the future, and finding solutions that are both encouraging and build long-term skills.
For example, the disciplinarian might berate a child for being late morning after morning, or threaten to take away a privilege. A coach would help the child build the skills to get ready on time like laying out clothes the night before, creating a routine chart, or simply getting an alarm clock.
4. Ask more, tell less. Coaches know, and recent brain research confirms, that learning sticks better when it is drawn forth from the learner rather than stuffed in by the teacher. (David Rock, “Learning Through The AGES” 2010). Asking questions conveys respect and helps the learner arrive at their own “a-ha’s.” That’s why it is the most frequently used “tool” in coaching.
Some of the most powerful questions you can ask begin with “what?” and “how?” because these “curiosity questions” invite curiosity and exploration. Try to avoid “why?” questions which tend to invite defensiveness and explanations. Here are some examples.
Rather than making demands, try these:
- What’s next on your routine chart?
- What do you need to stay warm today?
- How would you like to get out of the tub tonight? Like leapfrog or like a rocket?
Rather than a punishment or lecture, try these:
- What happened?
- How do you feel about what happened?
- What were you trying to accomplish?
- What do you want to do now?
5. Hold accountability. Good coaches hold their clients accountable to the actions they’ve agree to take, but they do it in a way that is encouraging rather than discouraging. If I consistently berate my clients for not doing what they said they’d do, chances are good that I will be fired. No one likes a guilt trip!
It is possible to hold people accountable without using guilt. Here are some tips:
- Agree on a deadline for check-in. For example, “Thanks for agreeing to feed the dog every night. Let’s check back in on Sunday night and see how it’s going.” Then follow through!
- Co-create structures to help your child remember (a sticky note, a sign, a picture, a routine chart, a calendar entry, etc.)
- When your child is not following through, hold them accountable by asking a question, “How is the dog-feeding going?” or by saying one word, “Dog,” or act without words (act like a panting dog.)
- If after repeated attempts, the child is not keeping their end of the deal, it’s time for the coach to get curious about what’s getting in the way. A conversation using “curiosity questions” can be helpful here!
Of course there are many other skills and methods coaches use to help their clients, and that parents can use to coach their kids. These are but a few.
According to Mike Riera, teen psychologist, author, and school administrator, somewhere around 5th grade or so, children begin to realize that they don’t want their parents managing their lives so closely anymore. At that point, they will fire their parents as their managers (without any advance notice!) If we are lucky, and have invested in a strong, loving, and mutually respectful relationship with our kids, they will then re-hire us as “coach!”*
Better to start your coaching training early, and secure your job offer!
*Riera says, “consultant,” but I’ve changed the wording to “coach” to serve my theme.