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Classroom Coaching: Bringing Skills On-Line

The following Information has been written by Dr Steven Richfield

Many thanks to Dr Richfield who has kindly given permission for us to use the following aticle.

Dr Richfield has produced The Parent Coaching Cards and the book The Parent Coach: A New Approach to Parenting in Today's Society. He has written many more articles which I am sure will be of real help to many parents and these are listed below with links to his site at www.parentcoachcards.com One of the many challenges faced by teachers, counsellors, and parents when coaching emotional and social skills to children is how to foster the use of tools at the point when they are most needed, i.e., the point of performance. Many children can learn new skills when they are presented in a neutral environment, free of environmental pressures. But when the pressure heats up in the form of teasing classmates, teachers who ignore their raised hand, and temptations to misbehave, it can be hard for these children to summon the internal language needed to bring the skills "on-line."

In this second article addressing the classroom, I will focus upon how to coach "anticipation skills" so that children can prepare themselves to respond skilfully to environmental pressures and demands. This begins with an explanation by the "coach" (teacher, counsellor, or parent) about the importance of anticipation. For the sake of practicality, narrative examples will illustrate a variety of ways that coaches can translate the coaching model into classroom application. (Classroom coaching is not necessarily conducted by a teacher, but only assumes that the instruction is being delivered to a large number of children.) In this first illustration, a teacher offers a framework for introducing anticipation skills:

"Imagine that you are driving to a vacation with your family. It's going to take a few hours to get there, and none of you have been there before. Your parents have directions, but they need more to get to where you all want to go. Think about it. What else makes it possible for people to drive places they have never been before, and actually arrive there without getting lost? (pause for answers) Those of you who were thinking about road signs are right. Road signs help drivers because they direct us to our destinations. In order to do that, they give helpful information about how many miles it will take, how fast we should go, and just as important, what we should look out for along the way. Signs do that by telling us about upcoming twists and turns in the road, traffic lights ahead, and exits that we need to prepare for so that we can slow down and turn off where we need to."

This opening example uses metaphor to introduce the subject. Driving serves as a useful analogy because it requires practice, skill, and many relevant issues (laws, accidents, penalties, etc.) have counterparts in the interpersonal world of children (rules, conflict, consequences, etc.) Thus, classroom coaches may find it helpful to refer to the driving metaphor during coaching discussions. Next, I return to the narrative, with the teacher demonstrating how driving a car and being a kid have similarities:

"Signs allow us to anticipate what is down the road, so that when we get there we won't be too surprised. For instance, exit signs tell drivers to get ready to slow down and change lanes so that when it is time to turn it can be done safely. Anticipation means the ability to prepare ourselves for what's ahead of us, whether it be driving or anything else. Why is this important to kids? (pause for answers) Just like speed limits that change depending upon where we drive, kids go from place to place, and must deal with different rules in different places. In school, the rules change a little depending upon whether you're at recess, lunch, in the library, free time in class, or group lesson time at your desk. In each one of these places, the rules are a little different, whether it be talking, walking around, running around, raising your hand, and so on. Kids who anticipate what the rules are in these different places don't get into trouble as much and do a better job at steering themselves.

Sometimes the rules in different places are posted on the walls, just like road signs.

But most times, the rules are not posted and kids may not use their anticipation skills to keep themselves within the rules."

Once the classroom coach has brought the discussion to this point, it's time to explain how kids can improve their ability to anticipate what skills will be needed, and how to "hold them in mind" in order to be accessed when necessary. This latter concept refers to the ability to use mental scripts, or self-talk messages, that can be matched to the specific demands of the environment. The goal is for children to retrieve the right "mental road sign" for their present place, but this requires varying degrees of coaching assistance depending upon needs of each child:

"Let's go back to driving for a minute. Even though drivers use signs to get to where they want to go, there are many rules that do not appear on signs. So how do drivers know what to do? (pause for answers) If it starts to rain, there's no sign that tells them to turn on their windshield wipers. If there's a car pulled over on the side of the road, there's no sign that says slow down because somebody might need help. The rain and the car on the roadside are clues that drivers look out for. Drivers need to watch carefully for clues to anticipate what to do. And as clues appear, drivers give themselves directions about what to do. Inside their minds, drivers think about what they should do as they keep their eyes on the road.

"Most kids do the same thing. They learn how to look out for clues that help them stay within the rules. Clues help kids anticipate the rules. But if kids don't notice the clues, they can't use them to anticipate what to do. For instance, if a kid is clowning around and walks backward into the classroom, he won't see the teacher motioning for everyone to be quiet as they enter. Let's say he's laughing out loud about something he heard at recess, retelling the joke, and whamm - he slams right into the teacher! Now, there's a kid in for a bumpy ride.

"But what if the kid had been looking out for clues as he walked back into the school building from recess? Most kids use walking-back-into-the-building as the clue to change behaviour from clowning around to straightening out. If this boy had picked up that clue, he could use it to anticipate what to do. Maybe he could have directed himself, 'I'm back in school now. I've got to stop laughing and acting silly. I'll find a good time later to tell my friends about this joke.' "When kids pick up clues they are much better at figuring out what to do. Walking into school is only one clue. Who knows other school clues that tell kids to give themselves directions?" (pause for answers)

At this juncture, coaches can offer a list of clues that help reinforce observation skills. Children are taught how clues may be auditory, visual, kinaesthetic, or a combination. Auditory clues include verbal instruction, ringing of the school bell, singing of others, etc. Visual clues include facial expression, body posture, hand gestures, etc. Kinaesthetic clues include walking into school, opening doors, etc. Depending upon the age of the group, others may be added to this list. Next, comes a discussion of the need for self-instruction:

"Once kids have picked up the important clues around them, it's important to know what to do. This can also be tricky for some kids who are not used to giving themselves the right kind of directions. Let's go back to our backwards-walking friend for a moment: he first told himself, 'I've got to tell all my friends this incredibly funny joke, no matter what.' We all know that was the wrong direction to give himself because it didn't anticipate that he was going to crash right into the teacher and her rules.

"Giving yourself the right directions is kind of like figuring out the road signs that fit the place you are in at any given time. Sometimes the road signs are simple to figure out, such as "BE QUIET" or "SAY THANKYOU" or "RAISE YOUR HAND BEFORE YOU SPEAK." But sometimes the road signs are a lot harder to figure out and you need to pay much closer attention to the clues. For instance, "RESPECT THEIR PRIVACY" or "ACCEPT NO FOR AN ANSWER" or "I CAN'T ALWAYS EXPECT TO BE CALLED ON EVEN IF I KNOW THE RIGHT ANSWERS."

"These road signs are harder to figure out for a lot of kids. They require that kids carefully look out for clues. Some clues come from watching the people around you and thinking about what keeps things going smoothly for them. Other clues come from thinking about what happened the last time you were dealing with this kind of situation. The way things did or did not work out in the past gives kids clues about what they should direct themselves to do the next time around."

Coaches can proceed from this point with a discussion of typical self-instruction messages that children can employ for improved social and emotional functioning.

The text from Parent Coaching Cards can be used as examples and/or as a springboard for coaching sessions targeting specific skill areas. Once the coach has chosen a finite number (between 5-10) to begin with, children can be made aware of which self-instruction messages fit with which situations. Increased reinforcement will also come from teachers encouraging children to figure out in advance of transitions, which skills need to be brought to mind. Social and emotional skills can also be woven into discussions within subject areas (social studies, reading, science. etc) that reflect the skills in question, i.e., teachers can ask children which skills were displayed by Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King, etc.

Dr. Steven Richfield is a child psychologist in Plymouth Meeting, PA. His column appears monthly. He has developed a child-friendly self-control/social skills building program called Parent Coaching Cards. His new book, The Parent Coach: A New Approach To Parenting In Today's Society is available through Sopris West. He can be contacted at www.parentcoachcards.com

Parent Coaching for Children with AD/HD and Learning Disabilities

Parents of children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) and/or learning disabilities (LD) daily contend with some very challenging parenting tasks. Whether you're facilitating home-school communication, providing support with schoolwork, or responding to your child's social and emotional issues, parent advocacy is critical to your child's happiness and success. Yet, you may spend so much energy trying to help make the outside world more manageable for your child that you find yourself on "low fuel light" when behaviour problems arise at home. I've developed a parent coaching system that involves proactive intervention, with parents acting as guides for their children's behaviour both at home and in the "real world."

The Self-Control and Social Skills Challenge

If your child has AD/HD and/or LD, you're probably well aware of any problems she has with self-control and social skills. Typical problems include:

Low tolerance for frustration and disappointment
Difficulty making sound decisions
A limited repertoire of social skills

These problems may cause frequent conflict between you and your child at home. In an effort to curtail problems, many parents turn to the traditional behaviour management technique of reward and punishment. While that approach has certain benefits, it doesn't promote self-control and good decision-making in children. The reward-and-punishment approach may also place the parent in an adversarial role with the child.

As a child psychologist who specializes in the treatment of AD/HD and LD, I devote much of my time to training parents and children to use a coaching program that promotes self-control and social skills. The parent coaching approach stresses the importance of viewing a child's behaviour as a "window" through which to assess her skills. Coaching teams up parent and child to practice strategies for coping with the hurdles of AD/HD and LD.

A Child's "Thinking Side" vs. "Reacting Side"

Coaching is ideally suited to the needs of children with AD/HD and LD. Problems with impulsivity, persistence, and judgment are addressed by the parent coaching principles of preparation, practice, and review. You approach your coaching role with a practical framework for helping your child understand what goes wrong. Underlying this framework are the concepts of your child's "thinking side" and her "reacting side."

The thinking side is the part of your child's mind that makes good decisions and watches over her behaviour.

The reacting side is the part of your child's mind that reacts emotionally, and without thinking, to certain events in her life. This common sense framework paves the way for you to introduce your child to related concepts, such as triggers, helpful self-talk, power talk, and figuring out the clues and self-instructions in life.

The Verbal Playbook

I recommend that as a parent coach, you establish and maintain a safe and trusting dialogue with your child. The goal is to help your child with AD/HD or LD break new ground by understanding her own struggles. Ideally, you will possess a calm voice, nurturing demeanour, and open mind. It's also helpful to acknowledge your own triggers. Perhaps most important is a readiness to listen to your child's point of view, paying careful attention to the words that reflect her perceptions and beliefs. This provides a glimpse into the self-talk landscape that fuels your child's reacting side behaviours and makes it so difficult for her to learn from her mistakes. As the parent-child dialogue proceeds, you'll want to refer back to your child's words to illustrate how negative self-talk impedes positive change. You can bolster your child's willingness to discuss her troubles by your choice of words. Saying, "Now that I've heard your side, maybe there's a lesson for both of us to learn," can help soothe her raw emotions. Rather than sounding like a judging adversary, you are perceived as an ally.

Touching on Triggers

Triggers are situations, or "hot buttons," that tend to set us off. You might start by telling your child about your own triggers (which she may already be well aware of!). You might say something like this: "We all have triggers that set off our reacting side, like when I get really angry with myself for misplacing things." Next explain that if we are willing to calmly discuss what has taken place, not only can we learn to watch out for triggers but we can use strategies to keep our thinking side in charge. This gesture opens up a pathway for you to offer knowledge and tools to reveal your child's triggers and develop a game plan for correction.

Typical triggers that heat up the reacting side in children with AD/HD and LD fall into three broad categories:

Self esteem (or "pride injuries")
Frustration of desires (or "not getting what I want")
Social encounters (or "dealing with people")

Provide details of what you observe and how your child's reacting side gets her into trouble. For example, you might tell your child, "When your brother calls you a name (social encounter), your reacting side is quickly triggered and you throw a tantrum." Don't Take the Bait!

Next, present a proactive solution to your child. "We can prepare your thinking side to stay in control by planning what you'll say to yourself (helpful self-talk) and what you'll say to your brother (power talk). That way you don't take his bait." Explain that being "baited" by people, or even situations, is both common and controllable.

You can reinforce the self-control goal of "not taking the bait" by explaining the importance of helpful self-talk and power talk when facing triggers. "If you are prepared for baiting, and you tell yourself, 'I'm not going to take his bait,' and simply say to him, 'I see what you're doing, and I'm not going there,' you'll keep your cool." Such a dialogue epitomizes the kid-friendly "verbal playbook" that parents and kids build as they review triggers. During role-play, you might play the role of the "baiter," while your child rehearses her self-talk and power talk strategies.

Coaching to Win

Parent coaching is a way to help your child develop the self-control and social skills required in today's complicated, fast-paced world. It also provides you with a pathway to make the most of "teachable moments" when gaps appear between your child's skills and outside expectations. When engaged in the safety of a coaching dialogue, your child will welcome these concepts with interest and openness, realizing in the long run she will reap the benefits of empowerment. The Parent Coach: A New Approach to Parenting in Today's Society
$19.95 from www.parentcoachcards.com

This resource is built around the accompanying Parent Coaching Cards, tools already proven effective in teaching children the social and emotional skills important to their everyday lives. Step-by-step instructions for using the cards make it easy for parents, teachers, and mental health professionals to "partner" with children to achieve targeted goals. This innovative product, praised for its commonsense approach, is simple to use, portable, and effective. You can expect reduced parent-child conflict, better communication among family members, and improved academic and social success. With a chapter devoted to each of the 20 eye-catching cards, users will have all the guidance they need to create positive relationships with children and happier homes.

Other Articles By Dr Steven Richfield:

WHAT IS A PARENT COACH?
WHY IS COACHING IMPORTANT?
WHEN THE COACH NEEDS JUST AS MUCH COACHING
TO COACH OR NOT TO COACH
CLASSROOM COACHING: DEVELOPING CONSTRUCTIVE INTERNAL LANGUAGE
CLASSROOM COACHING: BRINGING SKILLS ON-LINE
COACHING THE RULES OF THE ROAD
COACHING THE SCHOOL AGED "IMPULSIVE DRIVER"
REMOVING THE BARRIERS BETWEEN GENERATIONS
GETTING BIG HAS BENEFITS
DEALING WITH THE MIDDLE SCHOOL YEARS
DEVELOPING EMOTIONAL RESILIENCE
HELPING YOUR CHILD BECOME BULLY WISE
PROVIDING SUMMER STRUCTURE
MAKE CAMP AN ENJOYABLE EXPERIENCE
HAPPIER FAMILY VACATIONS
HELPING YOUR CHILD FIT IN SOCIALLY
DEALING WITH TEEN'S DESIRE FOR FREEDOM
UNDERSTANDING NEGATIVE INFLUENCES
HELPING THE IMPULSIVE CHILD
COACHING SELF-MOTIVATION
DISCUSSING AWKWARD SUBJECTS
COACHING SPORTSMANSHIP
DON'T LET YOUR CHILD TURN INTO A BULLY
DEVELOPING A TRUSTED DIALOGUE
DEALING WITH YOUR CHILDREN'S ISSUES
MANAGING SUMMERTIME MOODINESS
COACHING CALMNESS IN THE ANXIOUS CHILD
TAMING THE HORRORS OF HOMEWORK
HELPING CHILDREN COPE WITH TERRORISM
COACHING CONVERSATION SKILLS
HOW HOME LIFE CAN BREED BULLYING
USING GOOD JUDGMENT AMONG PEERS
COACHING THE CONTROLLING CHILD
COACHING THE CHILD WHO FEELS LIKE A VICTIM
WHEN FRIEND BECOMES FOE
STRATEGIES TO BOLSTER SELF ESTEEM
MATCHING YOUR COACHING APPROACH TO YOUR CHILD
PARENT COP VS. PARENT COACH: REPAIRING THE TEAR IN PARENTING STYLES
TAMING THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN FATHER AND SON (OR DAUGHTER)
TIPS FOR PARENTING PRE-SCHOOLERS
COACHING SOCIAL MATURITY IN MIDDLE SCHOOL
COACHING ADVICE FOR DIVORCING PARENTS
COACHING TIPS FOR CHILDREN WITH LD AND ADHD
COACHING INDEPENDENCE TO THE OVERLY DEPENDENT CHILD
HELP FOR THE PERFECTIONISTIC CHILD
PREPARING CHILDREN EMOTIONALLY IN A SCARY WORLD
RAISING THE SINGLE-PARENTED CHILD
UNDERSTANDING AND HELPING THE DISTRESSED TEEN
GUIDANCE FOR THE SIBLINGS OF DIFFICULT CHILDREN
RESPONDING TO THE CONCERNS OF THE ADOPTED CHILD
TIPS FOR COACHING KIDS WITH ASPERGERS SYNDROME
PARENT COACHING SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDRERN
COACHING PEER ATTUNEMENT TO THE CHILD WHO DOESN'T FIT IN

More information on Parent Coaching www.parentcoachcards.com

Author(s): Steven Richfield, Psy.D., Carol Borchert B.A.

adders.org 2004



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