We all have had the experience of being coached in our childhood years. Typically, this coaching was very hands-on and likely involved a good bit of teaching. As we grew older and mastered the basics, we usually needed a different type of coaching. Young adults, who often know more than us about specific challenges such as those in the digital and social media world, need coaching that helps them make decisions and come up with solutions to the challenges they face. Command and control techniques, if ever used, don’t work well with young adults. We have to move from managing to approaches that emphasize listening and helping our young adults come up with their own solutions.
The coaching of young adults starts with a few assumptions:
- First, they are responsible for their lives, the decisions they make, and actions.
- Second, we assume that they are capable of coming up with their own ideas and solutions.
- Third, they are more likely to invest in ideas that they come up with than those that we offer.
These assumptions can be difficult to accept if we believe we are responsible for their behavior and their actions. In the books I have written on practices, parents need to strengthen to launch their young adults effectively. I make the point that we can neither control them nor take responsibility for their actions. I can tell you this news is not well received when I meet with parents whose young adults are struggling with substance abuse or, in other ways, acting out. Embracing these beliefs is the starting point for enabling our kids to begin to take responsibility for their lives. We are not powerless. Coaching becomes the way we can stay engaged with them and help them surface solutions to their problems.
There are several skills to master to become an effective coach of our young adult children.
- First, listen. Hear and seek understanding of what they are saying and the feelings they are trying to communicate. For more on this particular skill, check out our article How to Connect with Your Young Adult by Listening
- Second, to help our young adult resolve a problem by shifting the focus to the end state or goal that the young person seeks. Instead of asking “why are you not going getting a job?”, try something like: “what jobs could you envision having in the next few years?” We can’t change the past, and focusing on problems of the past tend to be discouraging for both parties.
- Third, a coach is one who has mastered the art of asking questions that engage the young adult’s thinking in search of answers and solutions. Typically, these are open-ended questions. If your young adult states that their goal is to be working as an electrician in three years, ask what two or three actions they need to take to attain that goal. A closed-end question would be: “Do you think you can get there in three years?” This, in a subtle way, can imply that the parent has some doubt about the goal attainment. By asking them for two or three actions, you activate their thinking to search for at least two options. If you ask an open-ended question such as “what do you need to do to get to your career goal?” they may not search for ideas and just come back with “I don’t know.” As different actions or solutions emerge, the coach can become a collaborator and offer support if requested.
We don’t have to feel helpless when we accept that we can no longer control our young adult. We need to shift to a coaching approach. “Listen and ask” versus “Tell and direct.” In doing so, we can stay engaged, build trust and demonstrate confidence in our young adults.