Working within clear roles helps you both work well together. The coach and student’s role has to be very clearly understood by both you and your child. Your child will learn from you by following your instructions and doing the agreed-upon work. However, they should be in control of the lesson to some extent – for example, they could be offered choices such as when they might need a break or which subject they want to begin with.
When coaching your child remember that you are both learning to work with each other in a different way. The role of coach and student is often very different from the role you have as parent or caregiver and child. For example, negotiation as two (relatively) equal people, whatever your age differences, is vital here for a good working relationship. As a parent you may not negotiate often with the child, however as a coach negotiation is very helpful for your working relationship, and their ‘buy-in’ to the coaching.
Your child often knows what reading writing and maths skills they want and need to learn, and when they might need a short break, or have had enough learning about any new skills and knowledge. Take that into account, and negotiate so that the amount of work, and the length of time they work with you, is agreed upon by you both. However, don’t let them dictate the terms here, you also have to be happy about the amount of work you both are doing. Create a win-win situation for you both.
Organize your life in advance a little more than usual. Set aside plenty of time for the coaching session, a little more than you expect to need, so that there is no hurry. Where possible organize meals and other activities and children to fit around the coaching, rather than the coaching fitting around other commitments. Where that is not possible, you can coach in small chunks of time, for example when you are waiting for another child or driving in the car. Above all, coaching should be fun – not frustrating for either of you.
Establish a routine. Routines anchor you and your child when they are reluctant to learn and/or you are tired and may not feel like coaching. When you use simple, clear, consistent routines, you and your child learn that:
- The work is to be done even when you are both not feeling like it.
- The most recent learning will be first revised until it is understood before you coach any new skills or knowledge.
- Certain reading, writing, and math skill areas will always be covered.
You will both quickly understand that lack of focus, negative moods and tiredness do not mean you put off doing the work, and do not have to stand in the way of a coaching session. Set the boundaries clearly through discussion with your child, and they will more willingly work with you.
Have a set routine where possible so that you create a comfortable and work-focused atmosphere.
- Make a drink for yourself and your child. You can also offer food but keep it simple so they won’t be tempted to fiddle with it. Perhaps it can be a special drink and type of food that is only offered when coaching.
- Have a fixed place you work in that is comfortable and without distractions for you both. It can be the kitchen table, but have it completely clear.
- Have a fixed time you begin and end working together. Have a clock available for you both to see.You should aim to be ready to start each coaching session at the same time, even if at first if your child isn’t ready.
- Minimise distractions. Switch the phone to the answer machine and turn your cell phone off. If possible, other people should generally not be allowed into the coaching space, particularly in the beginning when the child will have the most difficulty concentrating.
Offer choices. Choice is a magic ingredient when coaching. At first, if possible keep any choices you are offering to no more than two alternatives. For example:
- Ask your child if they want to start with maths or reading first.
- Ask them whether they want to practice some more addition or get on with learning more subtraction.
- When writing stories make suggestions, but allow the child to make the final decisions about the topic of writing.
At first it might take a while for the child to make a choice, so give them enough time to choose. They will choose faster as time goes by and they develop more confidence. Aim for joint decision making and it you disagree, do it with respect. Never push or bully them into a choice. When they have great reluctance to choose a book or a writing topic, help them but still don’t choose for them.
Use the same or similar words each time you encourage or direct them. It is useful to repeat the same phrases and ideas often to reinforce habits and routines as well as helpful attitudes. This saves your energy, and gives them clear messages. Keep those messages brief and to the point. Try:
- “Let’s get the hardest work out of the way first then do something we like.”
- “Practice this addition/times tables/spelling word so that you will remember it easily.”
- “Five minutes to coaching time so get your things ready now please.”
Ultimately, be deeply interested in your child. One of the most important attitudes you can have towards your child is that of ‘interest’ in them as another human being. Listen with interest and respect, as one intelligent person to another, to what they are saying. Get to know the music, books, games sports that interest them. Ask them questions about these to update your own knowledge. Children often know more about the latest most interesting developments and can teach us.
- Remember what they say about their interests, because you will be able to use this information later when they are writing, or doing maths, or for spelling words, or deciding on what they will read next. In addition, you can compare their persistence in successfully learning to skip or skateboard, for example, with using practice and determination to learn reading, writing, and math skills.
- Let them have a few minutes each session to talk about whatever they are interested in; maybe when they are having a short break or perhaps at the beginning of the session as you are settling in and getting ready for the coaching.
When you both enjoy the coaching time, you will find that your child finds it much easier to learn, and the coaching process will run more smoothly. People learn best and coach best when they feel relaxed and have fun with each other.