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When to Parent, Coach or Mentor Your Kids

Consider this – you can parent, coach or mentor your kids. Said another way, you can tell, ask or share with your kids. All of these are available to help you guide and support your kids as they find their way in the world; which do you use and when?

Most parents are in “parent” or tell mode for most or all of their kids’ lives. You see older parents still telling their middle age kids (who are parents themselves) what to do, how to do it, who to be, how to make decisions. Tell, tell, tell. Most of this is because we think that telling is good parenting.

But parenting isn’t a one-size-fits-all activity. It requires awareness of both what tools are available and when each tool works best. And if the tools of parenting are to parent (tell), to coach (ask) and to mentor (to share), when do you use each.

The place for parenting or telling is most useful when our kids are younger and we are helping learn how to show up to and be safe in their world. We set rules to keep kids safe and to help build character (studies show that character is built by age 11). Our kids, unfamiliar with our wild world, need our guidance in how to learn to show up in this world – so telling is critical until they learn and have the wisdom they need.

Once this is in place, it is more effective for everyone involved for parents to shift to coaching – to asking. What makes coaching different is that is based on asking empowering questions. Questions shift the interaction from one directional, to two directions. Questions engage and require the party being questioned to think, decide and own their thoughts and actions. A question can open up possibilities.

How do you shift from parenting to coaching if your habit has been to tell, not ask?

The greatest advice I offer parents is to get in the habit of stopping themselves as they start to speak and reframe their “telling” into a question. “Get your homework done” now becomes, “What is stopping you from completing your homework?”

“Don’t aggravate your sister” becomes “How do you think it feels for your sister when you constantly tease and aggravate her?” Telling is for you. Asking is for them.

Simply by asking a question, you engage your child into a discussion. They are now responsible and accountable to explain their understanding, actions, behaviors or whatever prompted the question. They now learn to make meaningful choices because they will be accountable for their decisions.

Additionally, asking questions encourages a greater relationship. When you ask questions, you engage and interact differently. You give your child attention and interest – they feel more involved and cared for than just hearing orders delivered at them.

Notice that as our kids age, we shift from parenting to coaching – from telling to asking. Our relationships have a greater chance of success as we involve our early teens into conversation by asking questions. This way of connecting with our kids lasts most of their lives. Over time, I find that we do shift from coach to mentor – from asking to sharing. This is where our kids start to ask for our help, guidance and information. They invite us to share what we know about things – they are now ready for the information. They now ask the questions and look to our experience to accelerate their learning and progress.

Parenting, coaching and mentoring – are all tools to successfully help our kids discover and live what is great in them. We need to assess which of these works the best for each of our kids, and when, with the intention of helping them grow up to be the leader of their own lives – confident, competent, clear about their abilities and showing up big to their lives. Notice when you tell, ask or share; choose the one that works the best for you and for your kids.

About Jay Forte

Jay Forte is a family, teen, career and mindfulness coach, author, motivational speaker and nationally ranked Thought Leader. He helps parents learn how to guide, support and coach their kids to discover, develop and live who they really are - to help them be ready for life.

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  1. I try to make sure I incorporate all three into all my interactions with my daughter. This was a good article. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I think that this is a great article and is very helpful. Communication is key and a two way street. Your child has to want to communicate with you or it will not work. You can tell them all day but most of the time it goes in one ear and out the other. Or if they do listen at that moment it is only for that moment. My parents always used to tell me you can always talk to me but i was always scared to and now i see why.

  3. One thing this article forgets to highlight is the importance of being a ‘friend’ to your child. While you can tell, ask, or share through these other roles, it is only through friendship that you can create a space within which both the parent and the child feel free to confide, trust and grow together.

  4. I see so many kids with their eyes glazed over or exasperated when their parents talk to them. I think this is from parents that are not mindful. It could also be a personality trait. Some people are just so bossy. Last week I suggested to my friend, ” Maybe you could try doing nothing but listening to your children. Whenever you feel the need to tell them something, stop yourself and instead just listen.” His children are full grown and he wonders why they do not visit more. My parents do the same thing. They tell me what is so obvious. It can be terribly frustrating.

  5. This is such a great article! Thank you so much for this. You say exactly what I think needs to be said. Parenting is not all tell, tell, tell or scold, scold, scold. There is a lot more that needs to be done as a parent, that requires showing your child or encouraging them to find things on their own and not be told what to do. I will be sure to keep this article in mind when I become a parent.

  6. These are some great techniques in reaching your kids but not much is mentioned on listening. It is all good to ask you kids questions, but if you are not listening to the answer then what is the point. A parent should be open to hear the thoughts and feelings of their child on different subjects and not just want them to understand theirs. This is how we open communication between us and our children so that they know they can talk to us about different things without retribution allowing us to curtail possible bad decisions in the future.

  7. Although not a parent myself, I am the oldest of all my siblings. When my parents are at work, guess who gets to be in charge of them? Me. I know what my parents have gone through trying to raise us. It is like parents are more than parents, they have to be multiple people. Yes they are parents, but they are our coaches, mentors, tutors, nurses, ect. My parents are everything to me even though I am now a young adult.

  8. Thanks for this article it is so simple, yet powerful. This information is going to make all the difference to my relationship with my teenage son. I realize that he is changing, growing up and finding his identity, but the old way of communicating is still there. These tools will help me.

  9. I had a mother who was always just the parent and not much else. It sucked and the relationship we developed wasn’t that great as a result. We are working on it now but I’m grown now. I’m 8 months pregnant now and I’m just hoping I can learn to incorporate all three into my life as a parent. I’ve become obsessed with finding articles that give me better and different approaches to parenting. So thank you for this.

  10. This usually leads to parents being so robotic in parenting their child. You need to engage more rather than just telling them what to do. You need to help going through their childhood. Great article!

  11. Parent, coach or mentor… 🙂 Interesting question! I love to play with my kids, but I also feel the need to draw a line between playing and being a friend, so that they grasp the notion of respect. So parenting and mentoring are two things I consider to be very important as all the experience I have in my life, I try to pass to them, even if many times they are really not that interested. 🙂

  12. I am writing this comment as a daughter, a young woman who finds your article very useful and interesting. I think for a child is better to understand why he shouldn’t do the things he does rather than telling him directly ” don’t do that”. I was raised without being able to make decisions for myself and I found myself in many difficult, uncomfortable situations where a decision was required, however I couldn’t make one as I was always pushed by my parents. Dear parents, let your children enjoy their own mistakes, that’s how they learn. Parent, coach or mentor? I say all, however, the right timing is necessary for the three of them. 🙂

  13. This is an interesting point of view. Some parents act like they are always in the right and they can advise their child for the rest of their lives, but it comes to a point that the said child should not only be able to fend for themselves, but also learn how to coach their children. Parents should be coaches and mentors, but not authoritarian figures, at least not when the child is no longer, hum, a child.

  14. Learning to reframe telling into asking is a great skill to practice and learn, and not just for dealing with children. Using questions in any form of communication encourages the other person to open up, think for themselves and feel that their opinion is valued – which is a great morale booster for young and old alike. Great article!

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