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Help Your Child With Mature Social Skills, Better Self-Control

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Parent coaching skills for helping your child mature, develop better social skills and better self-control.

A letter from a parent reads: "In addition to Parent Coaching Cards, what else can I do to help my child develop higher Social And Emotional Intelligence? My child is resistant to my attempts to talk about these issues."

Mature Social Skills: Helping Your Child "Grow Up"

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Of the many contributions to a child's ultimate success in life, the presence of mature social skills and robust self-control ranks among the top. Parents can make a significant contribution to helping their children's growth in these vital areas.

While most of us are not short on good intentions, we must be careful not to be short-sighted in how we go about fulfilling these intentions. Children can quickly recoil at our efforts to "help them to grow up," leaving us feeling like our pearls of wisdom are going in one ear and out the other.

Parent Coaching Skills to Help Your Child Mature

Therefore, I offer the following pointers to facilitate the maturity process in children:

Mark those moments of maturity. So often we are quick to point out when our children depart from their "thinking side" path, but overlook those opportunities when they display self-control in the face of challenging circumstances. Children may also disregard their self-control successes unless we tag those times with our praise. And once we do, we might find out that our child is intrigued enough to learn more about "life skills."

Parents can offer a brief, but pointed reference to their child's achievement with comments such as "now that was a well thought out decision,"or "I've got to hand it to you for keeping your cool when you faced that challenge." If such validations prompt the child to question or comment, that's a sign that they are opening the door to further discussion. Don't unwittingly cause them to slam it shut by comparing their success with another event, when they were clearly in the throes of their "reacting side." Instead, explain that everyone gets trapped by tough times in their lives and it's nice to see how well they steered clear of reacting to one of their traps this time. If your child allows it, you can then elaborate upon the different traps that people fall into and strategies to avoid them. These traps might include feeling accused, feeling ignored by others, having to change plans, being annoyed by others' behavior, etc. Parents can refer to the "thinking side" as the lifeguard of decision-making, i.e., " we train it to watch over our behavior to keep our lives going smoothly."

Learn from your own coaching mistakes. If your coaching approach is leading to an dead end, find another coaching path. Children may thwart our efforts to "step into the coach's shoes" for a variety of different reasons. Perhaps we are too dogmatic about it ("Look, I'm a lot older than you and know more..."), or perhaps we are too wishy-washy about it ("I really wish you would just listen to me once in a while..."), or perhaps we inevitably leave our child feeling criticized and put down ("Yes, you did what I asked but what about all those other times that you could have cared less...?"). These and other approaches can leave parents feeling like their coaching words are marked "refused delivery" by their children. Therefore, parents are wise to examine how their delivery path might be re-routed. As the prior paragraph indicates, a direct approach is not necessarily the best approach to having your coaching offers accepted. Instead, it can often be helpful to wait for a "window of opportunity" when your child expresses an observation about themselves or others. If this occurs, parents can respond with an open-ended and validating comment, such as "that's a good point and probably one worth talking about."

These ideas will help parents make a more positive coaching impact. In general, my advice is to try to match your coaching approach to your child's temperament. More about this important issue will come in future columns.

About Dr. Steven Richfield: Known as "The Parent Coach," Dr. Richfield is a child psychologist, parent/teacher trainer, author of "The Parent Coach: A New Approach To Parenting In Today's Society" and creator of the Parent Coaching Cards.

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