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Posted: Aug 7, 2007 11:20


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Five Critical Skills for Coaching Parents Of Struggling Teens and Young Adults
Bill Valentine PsyD, CC

This six-part series is directed at those individuals, practices, schools and programs currently working with, or wishing to work with, parents of struggling teens and young adults.. The series reviews the differences between coaching, consulting and therapy and identifies five specific skills that the experienced coach must bring to the relationship.

Part VI
Skill #5: Celebrating the Process

Coaching, of any kind, is a process. That simple sentence seems almost redundant, yet many clients - and coaches - approach the coaching process as though it was a didactic exercise, a purely teaching and learning experience. While much learning will occur by all involved, during a coaching relationship there are no time lines or procedural manuals that dictate how or when the learning will take place. Impatient and/or in pain, clients will often want you to "speed up the process" or "just tell me what to do" as a way of gaining control of their crisis situation. Sympathetic (rather than empathetic) coaches can easily slip into the role of all-wise teacher. To do so, is to rob the client of one of the more rewarding experiences of coaching, celebrating the process.

In order to employ this skill, the coach, herself, must trust the coaching process. Remember, the ability to absorb new information and to affect personal change will vary widely with individuals. Indeed, the learning and growing pace will vary from session to session with the same individuals. The coach must realize that for some clients, resistance and denial must be experienced before they are ready to risk a change.

Discomfort is a sign that old thinking and ways of behaving are being challenged. As we have noted, nothing changes until we get uncomfortable. The coach honors the client's struggles by acknowledging them and encouraging the client to continue to challenge his old ways of reacting.

Positive change takes time. It almost never occurs in neat, incremental steps. Two steps forward, one step backward is a more common description of most positive changes. The professional coach knows that each triumph must be celebrated, regardless of how small, and set backs, while inevitable; need to be overcome through a focus on forward actions and positive plans for continued growth.

Often, the most learning occurs during the step backward. After the child, or the parent, has been making positive changes in their attitude and behavior, it is common to see a regression by one or the other in one or both of these areas. The client becomes fearful that the child is going to slip back into his old bad habits and the parent begins to display her old bad habit of cynicism and criticism. Such "relapses" are teachable moments in which the coach can point out to the client how she is setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy. This can be done with gentle humor.

Coach: So, how do you feel Brandon is doing?
Client: Well, all the reports from the school are that he is making real progress. He's doing his chores on time without being asked and getting his homework done on time. But, I don't know.
Coach: What don't you know?
Client: I just keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. I'm waiting for him to go back to his old behaviors.
Coach: Be careful of what you wish for.

A sense of humor is one of the coach's most valuable assets. Getting the client to see the humor in a glum situation is a skill and an art. However, applying a sense of humor toward oneself is often a more difficult task, especially for the coach who is heavily invested in the outcome of the client's process.

Self-effacing humor denotes personal adaptability and an inner confidence. Such a demonstrated ability on the part of the coach models the importance of keeping one's eye on the process and refusing to give in to self-doubt and temporary setbacks. Both coach and client will do well by reminding themselves that, "This, too, shall pass."

In our coaching practices, we make it a habit to close every coaching session by acknowledging some success on the part of the client. This can be difficult during times when a child is out of control, especially if one focuses only on what is going wrong. However, there is always reason to celebrate the process. If nothing else, the fact that the client has continued in the coaching relationship means that he is taking positive steps toward a brighter tomorrow.

Bringing experience and perspective to the process allows the coach to point out how today's small steps can lead to tomorrow's major changes. Experience reminds the coach of the Chinese proverb that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Especially for parents who have been "stuck" in doubt and inaction, any new action on their part (or the child's) represents a significant success.

Let us remember, that while ultimately the client defines her own success, she may need help in seeing past her own unrealistic expectations. She may need the coach to assist her in recognizing and relishing small victories while she works toward more dramatic changes. One way to do this is to compare the client's present situation, behaviors and resources to those she had at the beginning of the coaching relationship.

Celebrating the process requires that the client be focused in the here and now, and not dwelling on the past. Process means progress. The stream you step in today will be completely different from the one you stepped in yesterday.

Celebrating the process is a critical component in coaching children since they can become frustrated easily and often lack the cognitive development to forecast positive outcomes from today's hard work of change. However, cognitive development does not preclude adults from suffering from the same lack of perspective and projection. Indeed the adult's thoughts and behavioral patterns have usually been more rigidly affixed over time and are more resistant to challenge and change.

Like children, adults need constant encouragement and positive reinforcement during the process of change and growth. The coach must serve as keeper of the score card and provide continual, positive updates on the progress of the process.

Celebrating the process may be a foreign, even fearful, concept for many parents. Especially for successful business and professional people used to solving problems, enjoying a difficult and often painful process of introspection, and habit change represents a challenge to credibility. These parents come to us as they would to a corporate consultant; for analysis and solutions to their family problem. They are looking for results, not process. Yet the coaching dynamic is very much a process, and one that is largely in the hands of the client. It is our task to assist the client in understanding the dual relationship of doing and being in the coaching process.

While goal setting, action plans and initiatives are very much a doing, acceptance of what is and the flexibility to alter plans requires an ability to allow some things to be, while focusing on changing those things one can. (Remember the Serenity Prayer?) Taking action and letting go seem to be at polar opposites, yet often influence with others is gained only when control is surrendered. Again, this can be a difficult concept for those used to a command and control style in their business world.

Genuineness is a critical part of a coach's makeup and presentation. If, in celebrating the process the coach does not truly find cause for celebration, he will not be able to express a genuine appreciation for the client's efforts. Likewise, if the coach over-reacts to minor client success, he will come across as a cheerleader rather than a celebrant.

The coach's reactions should match the client's emotions. If the client is appropriately pleased but cautious about early progress, it is not a time for the coach to ring the church bells. If the client is appropriate in demeanor the coach must be as well.

Questions to get the celebration going

  • How do you feel about what you have done so far?

  • How can you really give this accomplishment to yourself?

  • Is it OK to brag a little?

  • How do things look now compared to last week, month, year?

  • How can this have a positive effect on other parts of your life?

  • So, what's next?

All work and no play make Jack a dull boy…and the client, tired, frustrated and unhappy. Parenting a struggling child or young adult is difficult work. Parents who take on the process of learning and changing need to be recognized for the heroes they are - and celebrated.

This series has discussed coaching as compared to therapy or consulting and provided an overview of the five key skills of a professional coach. These five skills form the foundation of the pyramid of 12 coaching skills featured in Next Step For Success's "Coaching Parents of Struggling Teens and Young Adults", a coach-training and credentialing program accredited by The International Coach Federation. Next Step For Success was founded by Bill and Penelope Valentine 541-504-5224.

Coaching Defined

Recognizing the Human Condition in Every Client

Clean, Clear, Concise Communication

Revealing the Barriers to What Is

Identifying Areas for Primary Focus

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