Parenting can be awfully frustrating especially when faced with children who are just not getting it right. They might be messy, disorganised, rude, with no sense of time or perhaps terrible in math, not coordinated enough to play sports and so on and so forth. It can be tough for parents—constant arguments, shouting matches and daily battles can leave everybody drained out.
You’re thinking, “This is not what I had signed up for when I had thought of becoming a parent one day.” You experience a feeling of burning out, self doubt, guilt and a creeping sense of regret. Yes regret! Not many parents will admit to this forbidden feeling but there is truth in this harsh sentiment. According to a study cited by the famous Happiness expert Daniel Gilbert in his book, Stumbling on Happiness [Vintage, 2005] the mother’s sense of satisfaction decreases after giving birth to a baby and only increases when her children leave home. Parenting children is a lot of hard work but ask any parent what gives them maximum joy and they will point to the little imp running her down with his screams and demands. Paradoxical but so true!
So what are we supposed to do about it? Just resign ourselves to this cycle of life or what Dilbert calls “belief transmitter network”? No way. I like to take [with a few slips every now and then] what I call the Parents as Coaches approach. Let me walk you through it.
Respect the brain
My fascination for neurosciences has made me understand one thing—each child is wired differently and it is important that we learn to respect that. If we take different skills like reading, writing, playing football, dancing, time management and anger management, each child can be put somewhere or the other in the continuum for each. However, when the child falls low on these skills, we become judgmental calling them lazy, sloppy, clumsy, dull, cranky without really understanding that they really cannot help it.
Coaching step by step
That does not mean we give up and say, “That’s what she was born with and that’s where she will stay.” Start with the skill that you feel your child needs to work on and break it into small easy steps. So, for example, you want your child to become more independent in getting ready for school. Make a list of things she needs to do the previous night and in the morning. Break it up into daily drill checklist for each chunk—packing bag, keeping uniform ready, bathroom checklist, breakfast time. Put it up on the notice board or the bathroom mirror; supervise each step initially and, as she becomes more confident, you can step back. Praise your child for every bit of effort she puts in the right direction.
Connect, play, practice and mastery
Dr Edward Hallowell [Delivered from Distraction, Ballantine, 2006] describes these necessary steps for coaching: make sure you connect emotionally to your child, involve play at every step of the skill training and let them practice till they attain mastery. Staying calm and being patient is crucial [clichéd but true]. Children are designed to be noisy, messy, bouncy, cranky, pushy, fidgety…yes all that and more.
I have found this approach very empowering. Once I wear the coach’s hat, I do not see the difficult child trying to make my life difficult; instead I just see a struggling learner in need of some skill training. He cannot help himself—but I can.
Tip: Remember the flight security announcement—in case of lack of oxygen, first take care of yourself before helping others. Same goes for parenting.
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