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:
“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?”
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?