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Posted: Mar 25, 2007 07:36


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

This 6-part series is directed at those individuals, practices 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 II
Skill #1: Recognizing the Human Condition in Every Client

Many coaches will find themselves working with clients who are of a different culture, age, gender, have different belief systems or are in different social/economic strata than their own. In order to establish the peer relationship that is so critical to the success of coaching, the skilled coach must find areas of commonality between themselves and the client. We call these areas of connection 'humanness', or the human condition. It is within this commonality that we find the foundation of the coaching relationship.

It is easy to view - and judge - another based on superficial indicators such as wealth, age, appearance, education, life style, etc. However, even one's actions, especially in the area of parenting a difficult child, are not always clear indicators of a person's aptitudes, inner strengths or potentialities. The professional coach is interested in his/her client's substance, not style. (To avoid odd constructs such as his/her, s/he etc. we will randomly switch between him, he, her, and she whenever we feel the need. We intend no disrespect to any wo/man)

It is important to keep in mind that we humans (coaches and clients) are more alike than different. Most differences lie on the outside, while our similarities can be found closer to our cores.

For the coach inclined to view a client by their outward manifestations of success, it can be a difficult or even impossible task to get past these trappings and his own inner feelings of inferiority in order to see the client's own feelings of inferiority, lack of familial safety, sense of helplessness and guilt. Yet it is at these "lower" levels that we will connect with our client's - and our own - humanness. Connecting through each other's humanness, the coach and client form a bond that allows each to bring the core of who they are to the relationship. All superficial judgments are limiting, both for the judge and the person being judged. To get past these judgments, the coach must, while recognizing her own limitations and biases, continually work to at least suspend them while encouraging the client to reach beyond his own self-limiting judgments.

In order to assist the client in moving beyond these self-imposed limits to take on new parenting skills and actions, the coach must continually bring value to the client as parent and person. Acknowledging the client's best efforts to date and showing respect for his world view is an important step in providing the support and confidence the client needs as he moves forward.

Key determiners combine to make up the people we are. Many factors are outside our immediate control, i.e. heredity, early experiences, environment, negative messages that we internalize and our cultural background. All of these factors synergize to produce our world view, our perception of reality. For the coach, it is critical to keep in mind that the client's perception is his or her reality. Challenging those perceptions, as we will discover with Skill #3: Revealing Barriers To 'What Is', can produce anxiety and resistance from the client. To challenge one's perceptions and beliefs is to challenge one's reality.

Letting the client set the style, pace and approach to change is another supportive skill of the professional coach. Unlike life or executive coaching, however, the parent coach must often help to set the agenda and focus of the coaching sessions. Parents of struggling children need a blueprint and guide to the changes they must affect in the home and within themselves.

The coach of the parent with a struggling teen or young adult must determine the client's learning style. Much of what the parent coach does is teach, while exposing the parent to new ways of thinking and acting. Some parents will benefit greatly from between-session reflective writing assignments while others will respond better to scenario discussion and/or role playing.

As the coach begins the process of building a peer relationship with the client based on each one's humanity, there are several important factors to bear in mind.

A. Change, by definition is uncomfortable. Consider that nothing changes until the status quo becomes too uncomfortable. When leaving the familiar - if painful - realities of having an out-of-control child and feeling helpless in the face of the chaos, a parent challenged by new choices and behaviors may experience frustration, fear, anger and general discomfort. Just like their kids. The coach is there to assure them that the journey is worth the effort.

B. Accept what is. Unlike the therapist, the coach is not looking for underlying causes of the current situation. Instead, the coach is seeking to understand what the realities of the current situation are. The coach is looking for the client's strengths, hopes and motivations that will help the parent move beyond the familiar and into new and challenging territory.

C. Don't take it personally. The coach must accept that his/her role is to support and suggest while surrendering the outcome results to the parent. Like the coach, the parent has limits to what they are willing and/or able to affect. In the end the victories - or defeats - belong to the parent, not the coach.

D. Be sure you know the difference between enmeshment, empathy and empowerment. Enmeshment is a commonly seen relationship between parents and their children. Enmeshment occurs when one or both parties lose their sense of self-identity and begin instead to measure their self-worth on the basis of the other's actions. For a fearful person, enmeshment may result in extreme attempts to control another as a way of providing one's own sense of safety. Conversely, enmeshment may result in a one-sided relationship in which the enmeshed individual loses her own boundaries and identity in an attempt to live through another.

Empathy, on the other hand, requires an emotional and intellectual distance that brings with it the objectivity necessary to really understand another's inner world. Empathy is not sympathy, nor does it mean a submersion of one's own identity in order to take on that of the other.

If, on a scale representing the effectiveness of inter-personal relationships in strengthening the client's ability to make his own judgments, enmeshment is at the lowest end and empathy is in the middle of the continuum, empowerment is found at the high end of the scale. Empowerment requires the coach to support but not lead; to suggest but not direct. Empowering the client requires the coach to let go of the need to control the outcome of the coaching relationship.

Eleven checkpoints for recognizing the humanness in the client

1. Put the client ahead of results
2. Distinguish resistance from limitations
3. Be comfortable with the client's limits to change
4. Respect the client's values
5. Let the client lead the process
6. Respect beliefs
7. If pushing the client into resistance, back off
8. Let the client be themselves
9. See life through the client's eyes
10. Introduce, but don't insist
11. Look for the similarities rather than the differences

About the Authors: Bill and Penelope Valentine are the co-founders of Next Step For Success, a parent and family coaching service headquartered in Redmond, OR. 541-504-5224

Coaching Defined

Clean, Clear, Concise Communication

Revealing the Barriers to What Is

Identifying Areas for Primary Focus

Celebrating the Process

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