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  • Elder Aaron Tan (PSPC)

Becoming a Parent-Coach

When our children were growing up, my wife and I came across a book titled, ‘The White Water Rafting Years’ by Ian Grant & John Cowan. We found it to be an excellent resource for parents who have children going into their teenage years. These could be one of the most tumultuous years for both parents and teens. This is the time when parents have to help their children deal with major changes in their lives as they are struggling to develop their own identities, dealing with changes to their bodies and dealing with their self-image, and so on. The desire to be accepted by their peers is particularly strong - peer pressure, the number of likes they get on their social media posts, and what peers think of them - they all become significant considerations that impact their self-worth and character.

As parents, we risk crashing the raft against some pretty rough and jagged rocks as we navigate the turbulent white waters. The authors of the book offer very practical and fun tips to help parents negotiate the white-water rapids in a sane and consistent way.

When young, children need their parents to do things for them and they will listen to you – otherwise they will not get to go out to play or eat their favourite ice-cream. But as they go into their teen years, they yearn for independence and become less reliant on you, and hence are less willing to listen to you. This is when nagging, scolding and threats may not work any more. What they need is a coach who empathises with them yet is firm and able to guide them in their development and let them make decisions for themselves together with your wise guidance. In this article, I would like to share some pointers from the book on how to become a Parent-Coach and attempt to weave in some of my own experiences as well.

Being a Parent-Coach begins by being a good listener. Create regular opportunities to spend time with each child individually and allow them to talk freely while you withhold judgement. Listen to their hearts, what they are saying deep down – they may be hurting, stressed, or they could be feeling happy about an achievement. The important thing is to be present and show interest in what they are saying and to echo back what you think they have said in your own words. This will reassure your teen that they have been heard. One way we have done this as a family is to build in ‘dates’ with our children which offered one-to-one time with them.

We have a son and daughter. During their teen years all the way until they were young adults, we made a point to ‘date’ them – my wife would bring my son out for food because he loves to eat. Nothing fancy – just some chendol at the food centre, or onde-onde from Bengawan Solo. My daughter was different - she loved dancing, shopping and nice food. So my ‘dates’ with her would include watching a hip hop dance presentation, shopping for shoes or eating at a nice restaurant (for special occasions like Valentines’ Day, of course!). If you do not know where to start, you can check out the ‘Date with Dad’ event by Focus on the Family. My first ‘date’ with my daughter was that event, and we found it very meaningful and heart-warming to express what we felt for each other. From then we learned to communicate better, and I learned how to listen to her more deeply. Remember, children spell love as T-I-M-E.

Secondly, a Parent-Coach creates a safe and trusting environment at home. If the home atmosphere is cold and full of judgement, anger or sarcasm, communication channels will not be work. But an atmosphere of positive challenge, fun, acceptance and love will allow your teens to thrive. They feel safe and they know they can be themselves. According to Grant & Cowan, if you can adopt the mindset that you will get through this stage, enjoy yourselves on the way and have a ‘party’ at the end, then you will probably be in a better position to generate the right atmosphere. In other words, keep calm and carry on! Don’t lose your cool and you will be fine. My wife and I have found that creating opportunities to have fun together, playing together and making memories, can help build the children’s emotional banks and help them to deal with their challenges better.

Thirdly, a Parent-Coach asserts authority without sounding angry or naggy. Instructions are given clearly with a timeframe and followed by a request for acknowledgement or counter-proposal. An example could go something like this: Daughter has left her stationery and other stuff at the sitting area after she completed her school project since yesterday. You say, “Dear, please clear your stuff from the sitting room before you go to bed tonight. Would that be reasonable?” She replies, “But Dad I need to rush my project report for submission first thing in the morning! It will be late when I finish!” You say. “Ok then when will you clear the stuff?” And you get a commitment from her which you can then hold her responsible to keep her word. No need to go into the “You always never clear your stuff” argument. Another way to assert authority is to communicate the behaviour you want plus the consequence of non-compliance, without the anger. Put in the anger and you lose the lesson.

This leads nicely to the fourth point - a Parent-Coach knows how to gradually hand-over responsibility to the teenager. Responsibility in managing money, going out with friends, curfews, etc. need to be thoughtfully handed over to your teen. This can be done by providing clear explanations to teach them how to manage these resources and privileges, and layout the consequences of poor management. For example, for our children when they were older, we decided to give them a lump sum of pocket money that was enough for a month (instead of daily/weekly) and explained what is to be covered in that amount – lunch, transport, Sunday offering, etc., and whatever remains they could decide to save in their bank or buy things that they liked. The consequence of mismanagement would be that they would have less to save or buy their own things. The outcome was quite interesting – our son was extremely careful with his spending and saved his money. Our daughter decided to cut back on her lunch budget and used the extra money to buy stuff that she liked. So long as they were managing within the amount we gave them (and not starving) we were fine. As for things like going out with friends, we set rules like they need to let us know who they were with and to remain contactable, and curfew timings were negotiated. That said, there should also be things that are not negotiable – for example, family prayer time before bed, attending church, visiting grandparents, etc. Each family should have their own rules.

There are many more tips that Grant & Cowan have shared in their book, but I think these four points might be a good place for you to start thinking about. And do feel free to be creative and adapt to your respective unique family situations. Ultimately, what we as parents are praying for is to help our teenage children grow up as confident disciples of Christ, with us as their role models, having a clear sense of their worth in Christ, and in our eyes be able to make good decisions for the rest of their lives. May the Lord grant us much joy and satisfaction in our parenting journeys.

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