My 11-year old was taking a math test today and he had a weepy, frustrated, angry meltdown, when he was told that, despite getting all 20 questions correct, he needed to go back and show his work for each problem. Anybody else been there? Now, as the parent, I have a few options.
- Yell. Yelling is always great, isn’t it? I know that, personally, I prefer to be yelled at, as opposed to being spoken to calmly. Especially, when I’m already anxious, stressed or upset said no one ever.
- Threaten. This is an option. Sometimes, it is the required option. However, once you get threaten, there is no more discussing. No room for a teachable moment. Compliance by coercion teaches obedience – but, the message of this lesson will extend far beyond schoolwork. So, you might want to ask yourself if the adult that you hope to help mold is one that responds to situations by simply doing what he is told for fear of the consequences of thinking or feeling differently about the situation?
- Coach. Put yourself in their shoes. See the world through their eyes. Try to remember a time where you felt the way that they are feeling. Ignore your own frustration. In this case, it was pretty easy for me… You know the feeling: I’m almost done, I’m almost done, I’m… I’m being told that the program crashed, or that my application was lost or that I misunderstood and need to start over. That’s pretty relatable. As an adult, I still want to cry in those situations. Now that I’m not focused on being personally annoyed at having to refocus my attention on my kid and away from the other projects that I was working on, and now that I’m thinking of my role in guiding him, and not quite so focused on myself, I can talk him through it. I Don’t mean do it for him, but, I can give him the tools that he needs to get through, and learn from, the experience.
All three of the above options are available to all coaches and every coach has a different idea about the best way to approach whomever they are coaching. I would argue, that, where the immediate safety of your child is not at issue, the ideal order of approaches here is Coach, Threaten, and then Yell (note: you do not have my blessing to yell, unless you have read to the end of this blog post), and I’ll explain why below. Before we get into that, though, let me tell you what I told my son, to help him get through his meltdown.
My kids all play ice hockey and are all die-hard Flyers fans. They know hockey history extending back before they were born and are familiar with the good, the bad and the ugly sides of coaching. They know that there are what are called “players’ coaches,” the guys that the players will go to war for, because that coach has proven that he cares about his players. They also know that there are coaches that get players to go to war for them under threat of extreme punishment and making life completely miserable. So, I got down on one knee and looked my son eye to eye and asked him why he was upset. I then told him I wanted to tell him a hockey story and that I needed him to really pay attention to me.
This is the story that I told him:
Me: Do you remember when the Flyers were in the playoffs and they had lost the first three games of the best of seven series, only to battle back and win the next three?
Son: Yeah… then they gave up the first three goals in the first period of game seven…
Me: Yes! And then the head coach called a time out. Do you know what the microphones caught him saying to his team in the timeout?
Son: No… What?
Me: He said, “One goal at a time. You can’t go out there and score three goals at once. You go get the first one, then we’ll start thinking about the second one.” If you’re focused on all that you have to, on scoring three goals, or on doing twenty math problems, it’s completely overwhelming and you never get started. You just end up sitting there; paralyzed by your own anxiety and stress. So, don’t think about anything except the question that you are on now. Then, go to the next one. There is only ever what you are working on right now. Deal with what comes next when the time comes.
The perspective seemed to have helped tremendously. Will it always? No. Sometimes, you will have to calmly say, “listen, I understand that you’re frustrated. I understand that you are overwhelmed. I get overwhelmed sometimes. That’s just a part of life. But, when we can’t find a way to push through that, there are consequences: people lose their homes, their jobs, their spot on the team; or, in your case, if you can’t push through this, you’re going to miss [event or fun thing] so that you can get this done.” Then, if they don’t get it together, you have to follow through. But, there will still have been a value in taking the time to approach it this way. You may need to have the say conversation with them 1000 times before it all clicks – after all, think about how many times you still need to hear things for them to click for you! If it never clicks, at least you will know that you did everything that you could and that you didn’t leave them to figure it out alone – because you were too busy being frustrated/annoyed/proving you were the boss – you pick.
Yelling. Ohhhhhh… I almost forgot about yelling. I don’t think that yelling at someone out of anger or frustration ever accomplishes anything good. Even if it resolves your issue, because the person does what you want just to get you to shut up – it still isn’t productive in the long run, and you are modeling behavior for your kids. If you yell at them and then discipline them when they yell at you or each other, you escalated to modeling hypocrisy – do as I say, not as I do. However, sometimes, you just need to scream or yell and let it out. I’d recommend just embracing the fact that you’ve gone off the rails and just yell. Not at anyone, but, just you know, let it out. Then, once your kids know to expect this, you can all have a good snicker about it, and it will likely alert them to the fact that you’re a touch edgy today, and it might be best to try to get you extra grace and try to be a bit more cooperative. My parting thought: I’m telling myself, as much as I am telling you. We all need to work at this. It doesn’t come naturally.