Be the Coach, not the Referee

There are a number of parent/child metaphors that I have heard over the years, usually to help understand the world of a child. One interesting one is to think of your child as an alien from another planet. They know nothing of our culture, our language, our rules, or our expectations. So, we must show them, with patience, how to live and thrive on this planet. It is actually a pretty appropriate metaphor.

But, the one that has stuck with me , is the coach/player metaphor. If you think of yourself as a coach for your child, instead of their referee, you may find yourself being more empathetic and effective. The coach comes along side the player; the referee blows a whistle in their face. The coach demonstrates how the game is played, giving them tips on the best way to dunk or pitch; the referee points out the fouls and has no room for mercy. The best coaches were players themselves, and so they speak from a place of experience and empathy. They don’t just hand out punishments for poor playing, they admonish and then show the correct way. In fact, they may have to do this multiple times for the same mistakes.

A coach does not just tell a player what they are doing wrong. They then show them the right way to do it. Your child is angry and hits you. Yes, that’s wrong, you should point that out. But, what should he have done with that anger instead? He has the emotion (and it’s not wrong to be angry), but still needs to be coached on how to deal with it. Perhaps he could hit a pillow instead? Or go outside and yell? Or throw a stuffed animal at the wall? He needs ways to channel his emotions healthily, and we are the ones to teach him how.

Some other instances might be:

“I see you want to throw. We don’t throw hard things like toys because they can break or hurt people. But, you can throw a ball outside.”
“The tablecloth is not for cutting. Here’s some paper to cut instead.”
“It looks like you are in the mood to tear something up. But, tearing up a book means we can’t read it anymore. How about if we find a newspaper to tear?”

The desires to throw, cut, and tear are real desires (not to mention important dexterity milestones). Instead of just saying, “NO!” How about giving them an alternative so they can express their needs correctly?

A coach does more than tell his players what to do. He also shows them. We are constantly modeling our behavior for our child, whether we like it or not. In the example from above, how you deal with anger will inform your child of how to deal with his anger. Do you yell at people? Do you hit or throw things? Or, do you give yourself some space, take some deep breaths, perhaps scream into a pillow, and then go back and deal with the situation?

Finally, a coach sticks up for his players. A coach understands where they are coming from, even if they aren’t playing well. They might see that a player needs a break or some electrolytes (am I stretching my metaphor too far?). A parent sees the heart of the child. Their intention, their emotional needs. Not just the behavior that is the end result. So they may see that the child needs a snack, some extra attention, some space to run around and be wild, or a big hug. A referee parent calls fouls and deals out punishment. A coach parent sets loving limits, models correct behavior, and empathizes.

Which parent are you?

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One Comment on "Be the Coach, not the Referee"

  1. francine
    03/02/2013 at 2:25 pm Permalink

    Great post! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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