I’ll never forget the moment when I that realized I couldn’t separate the way my coaching methodology applied to adult’s careers from the way it influences how we educate our children.
Roughly a decade ago, I’d just finished a presentation in New York explaining the research I’d done on power styles for Harvard. The room was packed with senior women who had been listening to me explain how a person’s professional power style often mimics the power dynamics they experienced in the first system they had navigated in life – the family system.
When it was time for questions, I was thrilled to see hundreds of women shoot their hands in the air. I’d anticipated questions inviting more specifics concerning how the emotional and behavioral triggers reinforced early in life can determine whether someone will react like a dictator or a doormat when his or her power is threatened on the job.
That’s not what was on the minds of the working mothers assembled. What these women were passionate about discussing was basically: “How can I teach my kids more about emotional agility during childhood so they will be prepared to navigate the power dynamics they encounter in life more successfully?”
A decade later, with COVID-19 forcing us to all ponder how we balance educating our kids with keeping our families safe, this question has never been more important. Parents today are struggling to balance their children’s need to keep up with formal curriculum along with the equally vital need for the interpersonal experiences that foster self-confidence, communication skills and emotional agility.
I’ve created The Lifeboat Process to help people navigate all kinds of unpredictable and even potentially catastrophic challenges. This process stems from lessons gleaned from Titanic survivors to help people address the inner work necessary to adapt, evolve and stay on course under pressure. Families sheltering in place, and even neighborhood groups arranging playdates, tell me they sometimes feel like passengers supporting one another on lifeboats as they face uncharted seas. As our families pull together, we are all facing the same timeless human questions these survivors faced: How bad will this get? How long will this last? Who can I trust to help me survive, and how will going through this change me?
Here are four tips from the Lifeboat Process that can help you supplement your kid’s education. Teaching your kids these skills can help them embrace the lessons we are all facing during COVID-19 and emerge from this period better prepared to successfully embrace new opportunities.
1.) Practice emotionally honest communication – On a lifeboat, impression management won’t cut it. We know when people are preoccupied and upset, we can sense it. Similarly, your kids can tell when their teachers, relatives and friends are anxious. We may have trained ourselves to keep our “game face” on as adults, but kids are often remarkably observant and intuitive. Be straight with them, and give them a chance to speak their truth as well.
2.) Use strategic pauses – One of the most powerful things you can teach your kids is how to deal with uncomfortable feelings constructively. Many kids grow up inadvertently internalizing the message that their emotional reactions need to be scripted. Some kids watch adults overreact, underreact or distract themselves with everything from shopping, to eating to binge watching TV to avoid dealing with emotional stress directly. Teaching your kids to accept their feelings, identify their emotions without exaggeration and then pause so they can choose a response that feels genuine will help them build authentic self-esteem.
3.) Prioritize fun – Make no mistake about it, fun is a survival skill under pressure. It’s as important as good nutrition, handwashing and wearing that mask! Many kids, particularly only children, are spending a lot of time cooped up with adults during COVID-19. Kids need to be kids – and having fun is central to this need. Here are a few ideas to get started: schedule time for family board games, pick movies the whole family will really enjoy, make lists of good deeds you can all do together to cheer up others and give a family prize for the best gratitude list each week!
4.) Work with others – Don’t just get the contact information for your kids’ teachers and have a brief chat. Get to know these educators – they are on your lifeboat! When we are grappling with this type of uncertainty, your relationship with your kid’s teachers isn’t just transactional. You need their input at a very human level. Not all kids have the same learning style, and teachers know this. What have they observed about your children that can help you help them? Some kids are visual learners, others respond better to things they hear. What inspires your kids to share? What causes your kids to shut down and retreat?
These tips can help parents create a tone of unity that enhances everyone’s ability to work, learn and bring out the best in each other. By incorporating these tips into the norms we establish while we are figuring out when schools can reopen, we will have added something vital to our children’s education when we finally send them back to the classroom. Our kids won’t just know what good “looks” like when they evaluate peer groups, clubs and ultimately jobs where they hope to thrive. Our kids will have internalized a felt sense of what good “feels” like. This inner knowing is a powerful skill that will help keep the next generation on course for authentic success.