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Being the coach – Tips for setting yourself aside to help your child in distressing situations




By Michael Hawton

17th February, 2021

Being a parent is incredibly rewarding, but let’s face facts, sometimes it can be really hard.  Our heartstrings are often torn when we see our child experiencing a particularly stressful or upsetting situation.  Our first instinct is to rush in and save them, or to become upset ourselves.

One of the greatest challenges we face as parents is learning to temporarily set aside our own needs and emotions to help our child when they might face a problem.  In doing so, we are better able to take in and analyse the situation, and to make measured decisions about how to incisively intervene. I call this stopping the bus.  To stop the bus, the bus driver needs to remain calm, and think logically about what to do next.

A good way to think your way through a distressing episode is to think to yourself “My parenting philosophy is to help you (my child) to achieve self-control. So, that’s my aim.”

I realise this is easier said than done – to set your own feelings aside - but I’m here to show you some important tips for knowing how to stay calm in these distressing situations, and then making the right call when it comes to stopping the bus.

As a parent, your goal is not to eliminate your child’s anxiety altogether, it is to help your child manage their anxiety. To do this, as a parent you need to learn to manage your own anxiety and the emotions associated with seeing your child in a distressing situation. After you’ve done that it’s about you giving them skills to develop their emotional skillset.

Another way to look at it, is to see yourself as your child’s coach.  The coach is emotionally detached, not cold, but is focussed on coaching the player to implement new skills and to learn new ways of coping.  As your child’s coach, it is important not to get caught up in their emotional whirlwind, and to calmly direct and instruct them on how to manage their feelings of anxiety. It might sound like ‘Well I know it may seem that way to you, but are there other ways we can look at this?’

My top tips for keeping calm and setting yourself aside.

  • Take deep breaths – and breathe ‘out’ more than you breathe in.

When you feel yourself rising to an emotional bait, your heart rate elevates, and your skin tingles, remember, you have other options.  Try taking 3 deep breaths, counting to 3 on the way in, and 3 and a bit on the way out. This will help your heart rate slow.  Set your own emotions aside, and assume your posture as the coach of your child.

  • Practise putting yourself in their shoes.

Your child is getting distressed. Seeing their parent upset is probably not going to help.  Try taking a moment to consider how your child is experiencing the situation. You might try acknowledging their feelings ‘It sounds like you’re pretty upset about this…’ which will help them to feel like you’re ‘on-their-side’.

  • Check in with yourself.

We all make mistakes, and no one is perfect the first time around.  Remember that just as your child is learning, you are too.  Take the time to look at what went well, and what could have gone better, after the distressing situation has passed.  Revisit your parent philosophy, and remember not to be too hard on yourself – you’re doing the best job you know how to.

If you want to learn more about this topic, and managing anxiety and building resilience, Parentshop is running an interactive webinar for parents to learn a parent-led intervention to reduce anxiety and build resilience in children aged 4 -12 years. The workshop will be held over three consecutive Thursday evenings 6th, 13th & 20th May 2021 from 6.30pm – 8.30pm to register visit www.parentshop.com.au/parent-courses

About the author

Michael Hawton is the founder of Parentshop, providing education and resources for parents and industry professionals working with children. He has authored two books on child behaviour management: Talk Less Listen More and Engaging Adolescents.


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