You can parent, coach or mentor your kids. Said another way, you can tell, ask or share with your kids. All of these are available to help you guide and support your kids as they find their way in the world; which do you use and when?
Most parents are in “parent” or tell mode for most or all of their kids’ lives. You see older parents still telling their middle age kids (who are parents themselves) what to do, how to do it, who to be, how to make decisions. Tell, tell, tell. Most of this is because we think that telling is good parenting.
But parenting isn’t a one-size-fits-all activity. It requires awareness of both what tools are available and when each tool works best. And if the tools of parenting are to parent (tell), to coach (ask) and to mentor (to share), when do you use each?
The place for parenting or telling is most useful when our kids are younger and we are helping learn how to show up to and be safe in their world. We set rules to keep kids safe and to help build character (studies show that character is built by age 11). Our kids, unfamiliar with our wild world, need our guidance in how to learn to show up in this world – so telling is critical until they learn and have the wisdom they need.
Once this is in place, it is more effective for everyone involved for parents to shift to coaching – to asking. What makes coaching different is that is based on asking empowering questions. Questions shift the interaction from one directional, to two directions. Questions engage and require the party being questioned to think, decide and own their thoughts and actions. A question opens up possibilities.
Telling is for you, asking is for them
The greatest advice I offer parents is to get in the habit of stopping themselves as they start to speak and reframe their “telling” into a question. “Get your homework done” now becomes, “What is stopping you from completing your homework?” “Don’t aggravate your sister” becomes “How do you think it feels for your sister when you constantly tease and aggravate her?” Telling is for you. Asking is for them.
Simply by asking a question, you engage your child into a discussion. They are now responsible and accountable to explain their understanding, actions, behaviors or whatever prompted the question. They now learn to make meaningful choices because they will be accountable for their decisions.
Additionally, asking questions encourages a more significant relationship. When you ask questions, you engage and interact differently. You give your child attention and interest – they feel more involved and cared for than just hearing orders delivered at them.
From parenting to coaching
Notice that as our kids age, we shift from parenting to coaching – from telling to asking. Our relationships have a greater chance of success as we involve our early teens into conversation by asking questions. This way of connecting with our kids lasts most of their lives. Over time, I find that we do one more shift – from coach to mentor – from asking to sharing. This is where our kids start to ask for our help, guidance and information. They invite us to share what we know about things – they are now ready for the information. They now ask the questions and look to our experience to accelerate their learning and progress.
Parenting, coaching and mentoring – are all tools to successfully help our kids discover and live what is great in them. We need to assess which of these works the best for each of our kids, and when, with the intention of helping them grow up to be the leader of their own lives – confident, competent, clear about their abilities and showing up big to their lives. Notice when you tell, ask or share; choose the one that works the best for you and for your kids.