Updated: Jan 10
Lesson #2 – Coach more, control less
I grew up involved in sports. In the process, I had a lot of coaches. Some good, others…well, not so good. I eventually went to Western and was coached by Larry Haylor, who was later inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. In short, he was a great coach and I learned so many valuable lessons from his teaching (I wrote about six of them here).
For most dads, whether you were involved in sports or not, chances are you have been influenced by a coach. Whether it was music, the arts, or algebra, hopefully it had a positive effect on you. If not, then maybe they weren’t actually ‘coaching’ and were instead all about controlling. But I digress. Let’s start by establishing what I mean by the verb, to coach.
This is where I admit my bias, but also validate this lesson with facts from coaching. I’m a professional coach, certified by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the John Maxwell Team. Based on my experience and professional standards, here is what I mean. Coaching is defined by the ICF as:
“Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their….potential”
There are 11 core competencies that form the foundation of ICF coaching professionals. The main idea is that coaching is a relationship that brings out the best in another person. I imagine every dad wants to do that for their child while helping them fulfill their potential.
I know that’s what I wanted.
But when it came down to parenting I found myself exerting much more control than coaching. The results weren't exactly helping my children show up at their best, and increased my parenting frustration.
Even though I, as a professional coach knew the impact of a coaching approach, I still struggled to apply coaching skills at home. The following facts about the impact of coaching are taken from the ICF 2017 Global Consumer Awareness Study:
Improved communication skills
Optimized individual/team work performance
Improved work/life balance
This isn’t meant to be a promotion about the coaching profession. My point is that even when I wanted to apply a coach approach to get these results at home – I still resorted to control. For me, it was a learned behaviour. Control was ingrained in my thinking.
Coaching is a mindset that sees and works with others as if they are already capable. Whereas controlling is focussed on ruling or governing.
The other point is that coaching is a mindset that sees and works with others as if they are already capable. Controlling is focussed on ruling or governing. Yes, as parents we are responsible to care for, nurture, guide, teach, discipline, and protect. And there are/will be times when we must exert our control to ensure we meet those responsibilities. Where I experienced challenges and increased resistance was trying to exert control before connecting. When I approached parenting from a coaching mindset versus a controlling mindset, my children responded better.
As I implemented three specific coaching skills to help me connect better, I began to see immediate differences. To my surprise and delight, situations that used to be power struggles turned into peaceful talks with generally compliant children. When asked to do something (e.g. clean up, brush their teeth, etc.) they – for the most part – simply did it.
I believe that after applying the coaching approach, it is much easier to implement controls when necessary because a trusting relationship has been established with my children. Out of the respect and appreciation they have for me, they want to follow the controls because they believe that I am on their side.
I’m not suggesting that simply applying a coach approach is the solution to parenting. I am suggesting that coaching more than controlling is a door opener to a much stronger, deeper, and meaningful relationship that helps children reach their potential. Where coaching offers more value is creating an environment that focuses on learning, awareness, and growth while helping children learn positive communication skills.
I’d like to share the three skills I used to coach more and control less. I think they can help parents connect with their children, like it did for me.
1. Actively Listen
There is something very powerful about giving another person your full and undivided attention. When was the last time someone did this for you? Do you remember how it made you feel? When a person really listens and hears your perspective it is the ultimate form of validation. To actively listen involves shutting out distractions and focusing on the whole person in front of you. As busy, distracted, stressed, tired, fearful (or insert any other adjective before the word) parents, it can be hard to give full attention to our children.
Borrowing from my coaching background, active listening is possible with a few small changes. Seven specific actions include:
Focus on what they want
Hear their concerns, goals, values and beliefs
Take their words, the tone of voice, and the body language into consideration
Summarize, paraphrase, reiterate, or mirror back what they said
Encourage, accept, explore and reinforce what they said
Add to what they say, but never take away or dismiss
Allow them to safely express themselves (i.e. no judgement)
2. Ask open-ended questions
In 2009 I attended a coaching conference and heard Dr. Peter Jensen speak about his book, Igniting the Third Factor. In his engaging talk, he shared a phrase learned from an early mentor. It stated,
“To discover is superior to being told.”
That always stuck with me, and as I read Peter’s book, I recognized a key attribute of coaching was to help people discover the answer for themselves. When that happened, people took action more often and with better results than if only motivated by external influences (i.e. enforced controls).
To help my kids discover I rely on open-ended questions. These are questions that start with how, what, where, and when. I do my best to avoid asking why because it puts people on the defensive and requires justification. Open ended questions are powerful because they can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no”. When used effectively, they develop critical thinking, awareness, and decision making.
Depending on the child’s age, here are some examples that I’ve used and seen results:
What do/did you think? See? Hear? Do?
What have you learned from this?
What does it mean to give your best effort?
How important is that to you?
How would you start?
When did you know _____?
Where have you seen _____?
The most important part of this process is to ask one question at a time and give space for them to respond. When I allow silence without jumping in, then actively listen, I often learn a lot more. And most importantly, my kids feel heard, cared for, and validated.
3. Give specific, relevant and timely feedback
Direct communication is one of the 11 core competencies. To apply it a coach “uses language that has the greatest positive impact on the client,” and “is clear, and direct…in sharing feedback.” In the parenting journey, I focussed my feedback on three A’s:
Choosing these forced me to look at the good versus correcting the bad (see last week’s post why I needed this). And I really tried to make it specific, relevant to the situation or their stage of development, and when things happened. While this was my goal, I struggled at first. It was difficult to find something more than, “good job”, “nice work” or “thank you” to say.
But I worked at it and have improved. I focus on affirming their character, attitude and effort; acknowledge their abilities, ideas and natural gifts; and appreciate their contributions. Making it specific only required me to identify what I wanted to affirm, acknowledge, or appreciate, and add it to what I observed or felt was positive. It could sound like this:
“Good job showing kindness to your brother, even though he wasn’t being nice to you. I’m so happy to see you learning to forgive.”
“Nice work on stacking those blocks! You kept trying, even when things fell down and you got frustrated.”
“Thank you for putting your toys away the first time I asked you. You’re really getting good at that.”
My children are in a very fun stage, and I’m continually amazed at how quickly they have grown. The most wonderful part of me learning to coach more, and control less has been the increased connection and decreased frustration we’ve all experienced.
How have you created more connection with your children? I love hearing stories about how you get involved, plus we learn from each other in the process – so please share in the comments.
Next week, I’ll share the third and final lesson I wish I knew then.