How many of us remember spring days practicing on the baseball diamond, summers repeating laps on a swim team or rehearsing lines for a school play? There comes a time in life when we define interests and then through practice we refine our abilities. As young children our interests may be encouraged by our parents, who want us to develop athleticism or musical prowess and therefore start us on piano lessons or sign us up for T-ball (because of their very fond memories from childhood).
While some of these interests or hobbies may fade and some may stick, the overarching lesson in exploring interests early in life is the process itself and not the activity. The process of goal-setting begins by defining an area of interest or a skill to develop, but success in each sport or activity hinges upon personal discipline, commitment, effort to practice and one additional ingredient: a coach. When will power weakens, we can surely talk ourselves out of running another lap around the track or skipping rehearsal.
It is more difficult to "give in" when someone else is there to hold us accountable for our goals. Imagine the baseball field without a coach or the performance without a conductor. An experienced coach, a person who knows our potential and pushes us to be our very best, steering us in the direction of where we want to be, is a vital motivating force in the goal-setting process. A coach knows our strengths and limitations and at times tells us things we don't want to hear - "One more lap" or "Again" or "You can do better", all with the intention of pushing us further toward our goal. When game day arrives, that coach is the one standing on the sidelines as the loudest cheerleader, reminding us of the effort, discipline, and practice that led to such a defining moment.
Parenting is a high-contact sport and practice usually comes in the form of babysitting a niece or buying a new puppy. It is more like sink or swim when you hold your first born child in your arms and feel the weight of the world knowing that you are responsible for raising another human being. Parenting is an individual sport (we bring our own set of issues) and a team sport, where spouses or life partners are an integral means of support and love. But when the game plan isn't working, you have struck out with your children, and the pitches are coming too fast, your early experiences with extracurricular activities can be an important teacher. These days, many parents are opting for the support of parent coaches who resemble those Little League coaches cheering for them on the sidelines. Most parents come to coaching to learn how to become aware of emotions and change reactions with their children, elucidating the fact that just as a body needs strength and conditioning to perform at its very best- so does a mind. Altering reactions and noticing emotions is like taking the time to choose the bat that will help you hit with the greatest precision.
Coaches help parents discover where they are in their parenting and where they want to be. They can assist parents in defining important values they want to bring to their parenting and then help parents design goals that align with their personal values. With a coach's support and guidance, parents outline SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Timely) that are a fit with their values and life circumstances. Coaches hold parents accountable for the effort that needs to be exerted to reach goals and serve as a source of feedback to modify or adjust goals as needed.
Setting goals leads to the formation of new habits, which leads to automatic responses, like your body knowing to put your feet on the floor in the morning, without having to tell your brain "Put your feet on the floor." William James, American psychologist and philosopher offered the following wisdom on habit formation:
- Launch with a strong initiative - start strong!
- Make a public pledge
- Seize the first possible opportunity to act - new patterns and grooves will form - just ACT.
- Act on your habit a little every day - do something, no matter how small, every day.
- Put yourself in situations that encourage the development of the habit you want to form. Change your environment.
Act frequently on your good intentions
As you act, your will strengthens
As your will strengthens, your personal character improves
As your character improves, your brain "grows", making it natural for you to continue to act.
A parent coach will bring you back to your values, where you want to be, and give you the feedback that will get you there. Just as you grow a whole new stomach lining every six months, new skin every thirty days, new liver cells every six weeks, new bone cells every six months, and new lungs, arteries, and blood cells every three months, a coach can help you regenerate and grow your mind, so that your reactions and actions become automatic and aligned with your values. Though I believe in the value of parent coaching, it is important to note that not all parent coaches are created equal. Check credentials, training, and choose one without a proclivity toward a specific parenting philosophy, because not all parents are created equal either. No matter, parent coaches will see you at home plate, push you to adjust your form and celebrate when you reach your goal.