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7 Tips To Bring Co-Active Coaching Home With Do's & Don'ts

  • POSTED ON MAY 04, 2023
family running in a forest

It’s hard for me not to coach my kids. You would think that after 25 years of knowing better, I would be able to avoid the potholes of coaching my family, but no. Like most coaches, I still fall into these ruts even though they are well known and well marked.

You know that moment :when your child (spouse, parent, sibling, fill in the blank) shares something vulnerable with you, and your Co-Actively trained brain recognizes it as a prime coaching opportunity (even though, and perhaps because, there was never a request for support). In these critical moments, unless I am practicing the skill of vigilant self-managing, the coach in me will compulsively step up and take the mike. In fact, this happened just the other day when I picked up my 13-year-old son from school.

When the coach steps in uninvited, things never go well.

It was one of those late springtime afternoons when everything feels possible. Under a wide blue sky adorned with fluffy popcorn clouds, I drove down the lush valley to the school. The lambs with their long tails made me smile as they frolicked in the brightness. My favorite song was surging from the speakers. I had just completed a great day coaching some inspiring clients and felt on top of the world. I turned down the music as I pulled into the parking lot and stopped in front of my son, who was waiting on the school sidewalk for pick-up. As he threw his backpack into the front seat, I could feel irritation crackling off him.

Instead of reading his Level 2 frustration and proceeding with caution, I greeted him with an exuberant, “Hey Babe, how’s it going?!” — hoping that some of my positivity would rub off on him.

Cue the torrent of frustrated expletives about the stupid day he had. He spent the next three minutes articulating the humiliating injustices he faces every day in his small school and complained bitterly about one such moment with a teacher in detail. I made the classic coach mistake of interpreting his sharing of this grievance as a request for help. — Insert action-hero music here. — The coach in me stepped up and took the mike.

  • Me: “It sounds like you’ve had a really hard day.” (acknowledging what’s going on — AWGO)
  • Him: “No sh*t.”
  • Me: “What do you need from me?” (designing alliance)
  • Him: “Nothing.”
  • Me: “Would it help to brainstorm some ways that you could advocate for yourself better in future situations?” (following intuition, taking charge)
  • Him: “Probably not.”
  • Me: “How would you most want a situation like that to go?” (powerful question)
  • Him: “I don’t know.”
  • Me: “You are really articulate, and when you are clear about what you want, your intention is really powerful.” (acknowledgment)
  • Him: “Yeah, sure.”
  • Me: “Well, I believe in you. You have the skills and passion to make your point heard and to create respect in class.” (championing)
  • Him: “Mom, if I wanted your help, I would have asked for it. Can we please stop talking and just drive?”

In this engagement, each of the things I said could be taken straight from a coaching conversation. But because there wasn’t coaching consent, very little — if any — of what I said had the helpful impact I was intending.

Knowing When to Use Coach Training at Home

Tell the truth here: Raise your hand if you use Co-Active coaching tools with your family.

Now raise your hand if you have had one or more of your family members ask you not to coach them.

As we all know, going through Co-Active coach training opens up whole new ways to communicate with others. Many of us step into the coaching world initially to improve and expand our professional skills. Sometimes coach training can lead to an entirely new profession. We come home bursting with enthusiasm to share what we learned, to help the ones we love the most.

The secondary benefits of coach training are the ways in which we ourselves as coachees (temporary clients for students to practice on in class) have been expanded and empowered by our experience of being coached. This can lead to an (inaccurate) assumption that everyone wants and will benefit from receiving our coaching skills.

When we come home from Co-Active weekends having had our beliefs challenged and expanded, having learned new ways to communicate and practiced skills to help clients articulate what’s important to them to take empowering actions, many of us can fall into the trap of trying to coach our kids, spouses, or even (heaven-forbid) our own parents. Sometimes the enthusiasm to share what we have learned can have a negative impact on those we most love.

We don’t often consider when we enter into the coaching field the possible negative impacts on our nearest and dearest.

In this blog post, I want to explore a few of the do’s and don’ts of using the Co-Active coach approach with family members. For the sake of this article, I will focus on coaching our kids,* but feel free to substitute “children” or “kids” with family members of your choice while reading.

Do’s and Don’ts of Using Co-Active Coaching with Family

* These tips and lessons may or may not have come from dumpster fires I set inside my own kitchen, inside my own minivan, and around our supper table. May my failures be good for something and help us all to learn and grow!


1. Hold your kids as naturally, creative, resourceful, and whole.

  • Do let them ask for what they need.
  • Don’t assume you know what will serve them. (I know, I know, easier said than done — but if you can do it, it will serve all relationships greatly!)

2. Use the tools of “designing alliances” with your kids.

  • Do find out what will support them most, asking questions like “What could I do (or not do) that would make this easier, more enjoyable, more fun, or more fulfilling for you?” — or asking their permission before proceeding.
  • Don’t expect your family members to know how to answer these questions or to ask you any questions back. Expectations of reciprocity are typically a bitter recipe for disappointment and resentment.

3. Vision with your kids!

  • Do get curious about what future they want, and collaborate together by using the skill of “yes, and...” with them to create more possibilities.
  • Don’t point out to them or list the ways they have in the past or are now sabotaging this potential.

4. Be (gently) curious.

  • Do ask powerful questions (sparingly).
  • Don’t ask too many powerful questions, or these questions will cease to be powerful and just come across as annoying.

5. Embrace failure!

  • Do create (and model) a culture of celebrating what doesn’t work as a way to learn and improve.
  • Don’t put yourself in the role of holding them accountable to integrate their learning from failure. Few want their parent to be their “accountability partner” after a certain age. It invites a power struggle over authority.

6. Hold space for challenging emotions.

  • Do self-manage your Level 1 reactions, stories, and opinions about their challenges.
  • Don’t (ever) ask them what they can’t be with or what they are resisting about said emotion. This comes across as critical at best — and patronizing and shaming at worst.

7. Use the skill of acknowledgement often. 

  • Do share how you see your kid is being, in an empowering way.
  • Don’t expect them to be able to receive these acknowledgments, agree, or reciprocate.

Navigating the Delicate Art of Coaching Loved Ones

It is both laughable and tragic for me to admit how much, even as a veteran coach, I fall into thinking that it is my job to help the people around me (even and especially when) they are not asking for it.

Stepping into a coach approach with our kids and family members requires a delicate hand. Especially with our children, using a coach approach flies in the face of a more traditionally co-dependent style of parenting that assumes the main job of a parent is to know what’s best for the child and to drive them (with however much overt force or covert manipulation needed) toward that agenda.

Co-Active coaching can be a powerful skillset to have in our back pocket to create new ways to communicate with loved ones. Just do everyone a favor and think twice before assuming that our family members choose to be in the client seat.


Abigail Prout Profile Photo
Written By

Abigail Prout

Abigail’s dream is to inspire deeper relationships with the Earth, ourselves, and each other. Specializing in spirit-led leadership through online courses and in-person retreats (Spiral Leadership), Abigail believes in the power of creativity to grow conscious evolution. With a background in therapy, she has worked as a professional leadership coach for the last 25 years and has spent the last 8 years as faculty for the Co-Active Training Institute, teaching coaching and leadership courses. Abigail won the 2021 Homebound Publications Poetry Prize, and her first book of poetry, Walk Deep, has won the Nautilus Book Award and is nominated for a pushcart prize. She offers classes on the art of leadership through creative writing. She lives on the small island of Lopez where she grew up in Washington State, with her husband, Clive (also CTI faculty), their two children, Iona and Jax, and her silky black lab, Bella.   

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