Without being taught parenting skills, many parents miss clues that their kids are having a problem. They just move along, expecting their kids to behave “normally”, which the kids can do for a while, but then the burden becomes too heavy for them to carry and they lash out, withdraw or show other signs of distress. The parents are then surprised and get upset at the “unacceptable behavior”. Sounds familiar?
If you have ever played any sports or participated in any self-defense classes, you will recognize expressions like “assume first position” or “get into starting position”. Every drill or exercise starts from some special position. Once you are in that position, the rest of the movements seem to flow on naturally.
In your professional life, you may have similar positions. If you are a doctor, you may ask your patients to take their clothes off and sit up on the examination bed. If you are a tailor, you may ask your clients to get up on a little platform so you can measure them. If you receive clients in your office (lawyer, accountant, etc), you may ask them to take a seat facing you and then sit in your big chair before you start providing your service.
Similarly, parenting requires a certain mindset or mental “starting position”, from which everything becomes a whole lot easier for everyone. Here is how.
“Congruence” means “agreement, harmony, conformity or correspondence”. Therefore, “incongruence” means that something just does not fit. Most typically, there is a difference between the person’s public statements and actual behavior or body language.
For example, you may ask your child to take the dog out for a walk. “Sure, Dad”, your child says. Half an hour later, the dog is by the door, scratching like mad and making those miserable high-pitched weeping sounds. “Have you walked the dog yet?” you ask. “Oh, no, I forgot”, says the young person.
Forgetting is the subconscious representation of your child’s true desire, which is to watch the latest Rihanna clip on Youtube or chat with friends on MSN Messenger. It was incongruent with the statement “Sure, Dad”.
This example is quite obvious, and will typically result in some harsh words about honesty from your side.
Raise your hand if that has ever helped.
It did not help because harsh words come from another side of a struggle and result in a defensive response. Instead, assume a coaching position and learn from this event about your child’s inner motivation and current level of responsibility and adjust your approach.
Here is a more subtle example.
Your teenage son is getting ready for school and puts on a T-shirt under his uniform shirt, despite the weather forecast being “hot and sunny”. You ask about it and he says, “The toilets are closed during the break when I have to change to my sports uniform”. This would pass as a reasonable explanation, except his face flushes and he quickly goes somewhere else, looking down.
Many parents would miss something like this, while others would praise their kid for being so resourceful and finding a solution to his own problem. But ask yourself this: Why would a resourceful boy slink away after presenting his clever solution?
This was incongruent, so what was the problem in the first place? Why does a boy need to hide to change his shirt? Something is not right.
Are you with me?
Which side are you on?
Many fathers, being products of a macho society, where “men are men”, would sneer at their son and put him down for “acting like a girl”. This position assumes the boy somehow represents the father’s masculinity and that if he lacks physical confidence, it reflects negatively on the father.
From this position come disappointment, anger, frustration and eventually, bad relationships with the growing child, who leaves home, never to return.
Assume coaching position!
With your son’s best interest in mind, you see yourself as his guidance and support team. Being in this position, you will find a quiet, personal time with your son and gently ask why he needed to change his clothes in the toilet in the first place.
It must be absolutely safe for your son to answer, because to do so, he must admit his feelings to himself first, and they are uncomfortable. To provide that “safe space”, tell him that whatever he tells you will be OK and that you only want to help him. Show your love to him by touching him or hugging him, to create a feeling of closeness.
When the truth comes out, reassure your son he is going through something natural, which all teenagers experience. Teens go through physical, social and emotional changes, and sometimes they feel uncomfortable about their body. In fact, this happened to you when you were young.
A bonding experience like this with a teen is rare, but when you view your kids from a coaching position, every bad experience they have is an opportunity for another bonding experience, after which they will feel safer, more confident and be more likely to tell you the truth at the very beginning.
So remember to keep your eyes and ears open for incongruence and then keep your heart open to guide and support. That is the coaching position.
Any ideas about the kid with the dog? Share them with the other parents through the comment box below.
Enjoy your kids every day,