The coaching zone
She had longed for, dreamed of and planned how to make it happen for months. It had lots of pockets, pouches and zippers and was one of her favorite colors – camo green. This Bible cover was “it”. At the Sunday school Bible bucks store, this cover required a long process of showing up and doing other various activities to have the purchasing power for the desired item. Bible buck deals and trades with her sister had been made, broken and renegotiated, delaying the procurement of the yearned for object. She worked extra hard to earn the needed bucks for the deal.
Sunday was the day. She had enough to purchase the cover as well as five extra to buy canned goods to donate to those in need of food. She had counted and re-counted and had a plan. A lot was not directly said about the morning plan, but she dropped hints and obviously couldn’t wait to get in the car and head to church. Running ahead, she got into line, anxious to make this long awaited in the life of a nine year old purchase.
As I came up a minute or so later, I could read the distress on her face. Holding back tears, she said, “it’s gone”, bought by someone a bit ahead of her in line. I reached out to comfort her and was verbally pushed away. My heart hurt for her as I felt the big drop of disappointment alongside her. When she emotionally pushed back, my immediate response was to just walk away in my own rejected state. But as I took a few steps down the hall, a still small voice whispered, “don’t walk away, give this a little time.” I took a deep breath, whispered to her that I would be waiting on a couch toward the end of the line and to please come see me after she got through the line. That time and space allowed each of us to slightly settle our own strong immediate emotional responses to the situation.
Though this incident might seem small and relatively insignificant from an adult viewpoint, it mattered greatly to my daughter. It is always a challenge to stand by and respond in healthy ways when our children face varying shades of adversity. Some of us have a “go to” of dismissing or disapproving of the feelings involved in such events and either actually or effectively say to our children a “get over it, this is not a big deal, you will be fine” message. Others of us tend to want to shield and protect our children from such strong feelings and tend to rush in and save our children from any and all discomfort. To help our kids move toward healthy ways of dealing with strong emotions, there is a middle zone – emotional coaching. This looks something like this – “tell me how you feel, I understand that feeling and have felt that way as well, let’s figure out together healthy ways to express that feeling and deal with the situation”. Much easier for me to write about than practice.
On Sunday when my sweet girl joined me on the couch, I did my best to be a coach. I shared her disappointment and celebrated that she stayed in line and purchased those five cans in the midst of it all. There was a big tug of war internally as I considered going to the person in charge of the Bible bucks store, telling her the story and trying to make it all better with a replacement green camo cover. But I also knew this could be an important learning experience for mom and daughter. I would like to empower my children to speak up when they have desires and disappointments. Maybe this was one of those times. I felt conflicted. I honestly don’t think there is a “right or wrong” approach here, but it was a chance to dialogue and learn for both of us. On that day I decided I would not intervene but would support. My daughter now knows that I will be by her side as coach if she decides to communicate her wish, but this time I am not going to fix it for her.
That afternoon, I was relaxing and reading through Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly chapter on Wholehearted Parenting. A brief definition of Wholehearted is someone who is resilient to shame, believes in their worthiness and is emotionally healthy. Brown is a vulnerability researcher and discovered something that caught my attention in light of our morning experience. “What do parents experience as the most vulnerable and bravest thing that they do in their efforts to raise Wholehearted children?…….letting their children struggle and experience adversity.” This coach was grateful for confirmation on that day that as hard as it is to do sometimes, letting my child feel, deal with and experience adversity has great value. Each situation is different, but in general, children need a coach rather than a denier or a fixer. We as parents need to be present in the midst of difficult emotions and learn to tolerate our own discomfort as we work to guide and support. I’m working on it…
What am I feeling? By Dr. John Gottman and Talaris Research Institute – a very short and concise book on emotional coaching. Takes about 20 minutes to read
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown