Hitting a Moving Target, Blindfolded!

Normal, what on earth does that even mean? In so many contexts, it’s not only a flawed baseline, but clumsy and quite misleading.

This post could branch off in any direction, ‘normal’ behaviour, ‘normal’ levels of mood, ‘normal’ job and ‘normal family’. Normal and average are interchangeable and very beige. I am reigning this in to talk about ‘normal’ relationships, in terms of the work I do with families and individuals, but primarily couples and relationship challenges.

The ‘normal’ benchmark of relationships is so distorted within society that when reality kicks in we panic and react. The only normal in relationships is there isn’t any such thing, and the sooner we acknowledge the difference and celebrate what diversity brings to our relationships, the sooner we get to experience a deeper and more fulfilling relationship. Many academics and seasoned therapists past and present suggest 3 phases to a couple’s relationship. This contrasts a fair bit to the romantic notion of love and how that is what love looks like from the very start to our passing days.

relationships2The Romantic phase. You can’t help but love this phase. Colours are brighter, the bird song serenades your effortless skipping through each moment and day. Time apart is unimaginable, thanks to endorphins flying around your body. That feel good sensation is fuelled by the brains ‘high 5’ of approval through the release of dopamine and norepinephrine. An awesome duo of neurotransmitters that bathe the body in a sense of wellbeing. This is a period, both conscious and unconscious, where we put our best foot forward…we wear aftershave and everything! Now, this phase can last for seconds to a couple of years, and has to come to a transition point at some stage. It’s at this point we navigate towards the second phase, being the power struggle. This is usually around the time of a definite commitment, such as getting engaged or moving in with our partners. Now, this is like enjoying life as a fun runner, in dress up and face paint to leaping into an Olympic event. They certainly don’t hand out Speights (beer) and a sausage at the end of these big shows (I imagine this is something quite unique to Kiwi events).

Harville Hendrix, suggests ‘it’s like the wounded child takes over. I’ve been good long enough to ensure this person is going to stick around, now lets see the payoff’. The expectations of each partner well and truly step up a gear and the performance each is giving steps down. Being attractive, clever and fun-loving aren’t enough. Partners are now expected to satisfy unmet childhood needs, complement lost self parts, nurture and be forever available.

“Seldom or never does a marriage develop into an individual relationship smoothly without crisis. There is no birth of consciousness without pain” C G Jung. The power struggle sets the stage for growth and the third stage, conscious love. Here the how, why and when’s can’t be done justice within a few sentences, so if this flicks a switch for you check out one of the many texts by Harville Hendrix.  At this stage we-ideally- move from, ‘what can I get from this relationship?’ to ‘what does the relationship need from me?’ It’s a bitter pill to swallow, as holding on for dear life to the romantic phase of the relationship, sits far more comfortably in the sphere consumed by the me, myself and I. Rather than being a hindrance, it is only after you pass the romantic phase do you start to explore and nurture a deeper, longer lasting relationship and love. The key is to send the mantle of relationship expectations based on a perceived social norm on its sweet merry way. It is essential that we embrace, not fear difference and begin celebrating each others uniqueness. As it is this uniqueness that has been unconsciously hand picked to continue your personal growth and emotional maturity, through a relationship. Many folk search tirelessly for a mirror reflection of themselves. Time is better spent looking for someone that extends our strengths and reduces our weakness and vice versa. Much of which is informed by past scripts and our experiences of our own caregivers. Some refer to this as an Imago match. I learnt this lesson over a decade ago in my second year of counselling. Whilst at a colleagues retirement dinner I was genuinely fascinated when I found out he had been happily married for 42 years to his first love. Fresh to life as a married man myself I wanted to know the secret. Straight off the bat his response to my question was ‘we have similar interests but very different hobbies’. I’m sure he undersold the ingredients fully to his impressive marriage, but he didn’t harp on about how they finish each others sentences and have been tennis partners since school, as this was far from the case, it was they acknowledge and support each others differences but their values and beliefs bring them back to a central point of connection.

I scribbled this down recently when talking to folk about identifying potential relationship matches. The first image being what many of us think is a good match and the second is quite often the best match.

There is no secret as far as I know, some folk are making a pretty penny from what amounts to little more and a short lasting pep talk. However, what I would say is that it can offer a huge shift to simply acknowledge difference in your relationship and ignore any thoughts of pursuing ‘normal’. Celebrate the wonderful uniqueness each person brings to the party. Know that difference isn’t as alarming as it may feel or incompatibility, but in fact the foundations for growth, personal and relational. Unsettling at times, but you will do well to embrace it with open arms. I must add that, just in case it may not be obvious, i am in no way including abusive relationships, and I hope this is a context that will not be diffused or associated within this post.

I don’t see these three phases as lineal, but cyclical as we navigate through life and all the highs and crappy bits. There will be conflict, whether overt or covert, it’s making a conscious commitment to the relationship and developing communication that continues to strengthen relationships and enable growth.

The Silent Partners of Counselling (SPOC’s) and how SKOOPER can help

You won’t struggle to find advice, apps and bits in between to help those reaching out for support, such as counselling. But what about the family and friends outside of counselling, you won’t find much if anything at all.

As a counsellor I’ve seen thousands of individuals and families over the years. When they are sat in front of me they are the all and everything of that space. For most of the counselling conversations it will be a deep processing and the development or strengthening of ‘positive seeds’, ‘food for thought’ or ‘reflection’. Whatever you want to call it, a huge amount goes on outside of the counselling space in between sessions. What is it like for the family and friends who are seemingly along for the ride? Kind of like a silent partner in business land, they have a huge investment, commitment and role in the whole deal but may feel shut out from the whole thing.

Every relationship and individual is wonderfully unique, so what works for one may be useless for another. However, SKOOPER may offer guidance on how to manage time as a SPOC (Silent Partner of Counselling).

skooper-for-spocs-1

SAFETY of self and others is paramount. Know that if the counsellor has concerns over their safety this will be communicated to the right people after consultation with the client. If you have real concerns about the safety of your loved one then have a plan or at least a contact.  This would be knowing the contact number for the crisis teams specific to the age of the client, so in New Zealand it would be either the adult or adolescent team and the respective after hours process. Of course there is always 111 or the emergency service number of your country.

KNOW counselling and what it is and isn’t. Do your homework. I’m finding increasingly that this is becoming the case, and when folk first call me they have already checked my website out, read a few posts and really had a think about making sure they get the right fit for them or their loved one. This is just my point, being a part of such an important decision is incredibly powerful for all parties. The first session is reasonably stock standard in terms of contracting and getting a feel for the space and what counselling is and/or isn’t. This is usually a good conversation to have for those connecting with a counsellor for the first time, especially before moving on to the next point.

OPEN and honest conversations. Have a chat and agree what, when and how conversations will be approached post session or as it goes on. Do I ask questions and how do I approach them? That is best figured out between you, up front and honestly. People do all sorts and I’m fortunate in where my office is located, lots of café’s, restaurants and beaches. One example is a couple who meet up after one of our sessions (I will have seen one of them). The kids are with a child minder and they go for a meal. The first 10 mins is reconnect time, 20 mins is a bit of counselling reflection time and then they are pretty strict about the rest of the time being non-counselling related and them time. An example from a teenage client involved a toy. Children and teenagers are more than capable of expressing how they feel, if anything they can teach us a thing or too. What is sometimes a challenge is how to initiate it. Well, when they wanted to talk about something important the toy that was kept on a shelf would be turned around as a sign for their parent. Once spotted the parent would always say the same thing, “I spotted Bert, how about smoothie in 30”. The point is make a plan for what this period of time (whilst having counselling) may look and sound like for your family.

Be OKAY with the not knowing. If your partner will only give you ‘ít’s alright aye’ and then moves on with their day, then take a breath and respect their choice and let it go. One strong response could be ‘fair enough, know I ask because I care about you, but if and when you do want to talk about stuff, just let me know and we’ll do just that’. Trust the process and trust your partner or family member.

Remember it’s not PERSONAL. Counselling should never be gossiping and an opportunity to have a real moan about your partner, family member or boss, it simply doesn’t go like that. Counselling will largely centre around whoever is in the room itself, not talking about folk that aren’t.

Ease up on yourself. It can be a heck of a rollercoaster and pretty draining being immersed in your partners reflections and ongoing processing. So, look after yourself too. Keep connecting with those you want to spend time with and doing those things that you love to do. Protect times where the deep and meaningfuls are off-limits. Only last night I was walking with my family on the beach, when I started talking about some work I needed to do the following day. My wife calmly turned to me and just said, “Be present” with a smile. First time I have had one of my own blog posts used to bump me back on point. it’s okay, if not essential that you can just say ‘not now’.

Reflective Listening.  Post a session there is usually a fair bit of momentum still going on and words and language used may be a bit different from what you are used to hearing. Reflective listening does two things affirms your partner that they have been heard, but also invites them to expand further if they want and feel able. Using the same words simply reflect it back.  I intentionally left the question marks off the response, you simply reflect what they may have said and if they expand further, then great, if they don’t then that’s okay too. Phil Dunphy from the Modern Family gives it a go.

Lastly, say what you see and hear. If you notice positive changes, no matter how small, let them know. We all need to hear at times that we are on track, and it also just as good for you to catch the good stuff and how it makes you feel.

These are just a few points to think about, if you can think of any more then let me know, even if they won’t work in an acronym :-).

Hope its helpful and at the very least prompts thought and discussion.

Parenting: Being Here Rather Than There.

Present parenting, not presently parenting. If you do a bit of googling on this topic you’ll find two main threads. Either, some direction around Mindfulness, yourself and the benefits this may bring to your parenting. Alternatively, the bulk of content relates to situations like the one in the image below, there in body alone.busy-parentsThis post is about authentic presence. Mindfulness, meditation, being present, whatever term you want to use; the power of switching off from ‘there’ and really being ‘here’ in any relationship, but specifically with your young one, is truly incredible and an invaluable practice to incorporate into our lives.

What prompts this post? well I’m a counsellor specialising in working with children and adolescents, and work with a lot of families. It also helps that I’m quite passionate about what I do. However, what prompts this post is my reflection of the weekend just gone, and my greatest passion, my family and being the best dad I can be.

This weekend we did a lot of cool things, and every one of them together as a family. I also did a lot of DIY, chores and a spot of work. We did coffee, saw friends and then did the beach. We did a lot of very cool stuff. Interestingly, I have pictures on my phone capturing most of the weekend, except up to one key moment. I got back from an early morning mountain bike ride and every part of me wanted to just hang out with my boy. I wasn’t just still running on a high after the epic trails, or even a sugar high after the fine vanilla slice (or two) I had on the way home. I really wanted to just be with my boy. When he returned home and bowled through the front door, he gave me a big hug and said ‘I love you a big bit, wanna play?’ Now, this isn’t a glowing public show of the constant magic moments we have. The reason its so relevant is because usually he loves mum a ‘big bit’ and dad a ‘little bit’. I get it, his mum is pretty awesome. We then sat and played submarines, fishing and built a cushion house with an epic viewing platform. I was happy and so was my son. Loving me a ‘big bit’ was so profound, as I believe he had connected with his dad being genuinely present way beyond just my physical presence. How, I noticed how his hair swept across his face, I noticed the green specks of play doh in his hair. I noticed the chirpy bounce in his words, and boy did I notice how awesomely blue his eyes are. I wasn’t doing play time, I was being truly present with my son, and man it felt incredible. I was truly experiencing the moment, so it didn’t quite occur to me to find my phone and take a picture.

I recently left a good job in the city on a salary to be proud of. I would leave for the ferry before he woke up and would just make it home to kiss him goodnight. One evening I returned home just in time. I heard him then say to his mum, “is daddy going back to work now”. He thought I merely popped home for dinner before going back to work! Soon after, I left this job to spend more time with my family. But with increased time, I realised a lot of it wasn’t quite as I had hoped and expected. I was reminded this weekend to not mistake quantity of time with quality of time.

So, what is present parenting. For me it isn’t celebrating that you take your kids for an ice cream whilst you keep the work calls or social media updates ticking over. That can be doing parenting and a a whole heap of missed opportunities. Present parenting is when you don’t even know where your phone is. It’s when you realise that reversing your pretend boat into the sea, using your pretend tractor makes perfect sense. It’s when you stop, breath, notice and then capture how your young one sticks their tongue out when they are really concentrating. It’s when you watch them sleep once they have reached that deep sleep, where they look so insanely peaceful and beautiful. piratesIt’s those times when you are so lost in the now that you realise how found you really are. Playing pirates, fishing, shops and story time, completely free of charge and exactly what they want and need. Better still, as parents it is the most powerful lift we can have whenever we want… even cheaper and stronger than coffee.

What can we do?

  1. Look after yourself. Mindfulness is best incorporated into your everyday life, rather than a stand alone parenting strategy for your tool kit. I am a big fan of the app Headspace. Short, sweet and achievable, so a good chance that you’ll stick with it. headspaceOtherwise, find the space, time and for 10 mins find a Mindfulness exercise that works for you and keep doing it. Ensure that you eat properly, sleep enough, and exercise. You may need to be creative to fit some of these things into your daily schedule.
  2. Give more attention and less of everything else. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your children. Not in activities driven by your agenda, but according to their terms. Undivided attention is the most powerful expression of love you can give.
  3. Practice mindful listening. Listen to your child as intently as if you were listening to a piece of music or the sounds of nature. Listen with a gentle attentiveness and respond as necessary. Listening to your child can be like a mindfulness meditation.
  4. Let your children teach you a thing or too. Our young ones are the absolute Yoda’s of being present. If you watch their imaginative play hard enough, you too will start kids-n-natureto look around questioning if they actually are building a boat with their talking dog. They can teach you how to see the magic in everything they come into contact with as if for the first time every time. The sea, the sky, a butterfly, long grass, paint. They are on to something, so watch and learn and give it a go for yourself.
  5. Observe your own behaviour as much as you observe your child’s behaviour. Acknowledge the salty bits and capture the sweet bits. When capturing the sweet bits take notice of how you feel and what it looked and sounded like, and better still what impact did this have on those around you.
  6. Pursue balance and healthy boundaries, when it comes to work and home. The emails will still be there in the morning.
  7. Give yourself a break. You don’t need to take things too seriously. If you made a mistake in your parenting, don’t beat yourself up– instead see if you can laugh or at least smile about it. You’re human after all, and so is your child.
  8. Turn off the noise. Check out the ‘Look Up’ YouTube video to keep you thinking. When it comes to your young ones don’t use artificial distractions. Escapism, excitement and exploring new things, begins with you.
  9. Live by routine.Take the needless guesswork out of meals and bedtimes. Let everyone relax into the predictable flow of a healthy and secure life.
  10. Promote the small stuff. Reclaim those missed opportunities. Brushing teeth, laying the table, putting the sun cream on, doing their hair. It’s awesome, do it together and notice the awesomeness of the small stuff, because they do.

For all those parents out there, you will know only too well, you blink and they are gone, so grab hold of every opportunity with both arms and feet, and savor every moment.

mindf

Otter, Lion, Golden Retriever or Beaver?

What personality type is your young one?

If you have read my post on ‘Passion Pushing or Sharing the Goodness’ then you already have a fair idea about what I’m like when it comes to sport and competition. I was recently part of a workshop talking about resilience in children, and it recalled the old matter I had about personality types, namely the Myers-Briggs personality model.

My son is a big unit for his age, the size that many folk presume equates to a child a couple of years older than he is. This then is sometimes followed by the comment that he’ll make a heck of an All Black. This is somewhat of a contradiction to reality. This has nothing to do with his physical attributes but elements of his personality that makes me prouder than if he were to be an All Black. We join other families on a Saturday morning at Rugby Tots. He is pretty sharp off the mark, outstanding at zig zagging and takes great delight in watching me race off after his ball once he’s kicked it the length of the room. The personality I am referring to is best illustrated in how he plays the games they guide us through. Cowboys and Indians to start with, this is a gauntlet style activity where the cowboys race through a channel whilst the Indians are kicking foam balls at the them. Last one standing wins. My boy waits until the others have past before he kicks the ball safely out of harms way. The best example is tag rugby. He won’t take the tags off the other boys. When I asked him why, he whispered into my ear that it is snatching. Every week this happens with the strongest example being the Saturday just gone. Two boys face off with about 10 yards between them. When the whistle goes they have to sprint to the ball and the first one that dives on it wins. After 3 attempts my son would stop short of the ball until the other boy had caught up and dived on the ball. The fourth time I had encouraged him to get the ball highlighting it was part of the game and okay. This time he raced down and secured the ball and proudly brought it back to me. The other boy was beside himself and being consoled by his mum and one of the coaches. My son then turned around, jogged to the other side of the room and handed the ball to the upset young man. Every part of me a proud dad. I would suggest my son is very much a Golden Retriever. I am only too aware having seen lots of interactions with other children, that as parents we need to be mindful of the implications of being a retriever and how this informs elements of our parenting.

That is the very point of these personality type examples. To encourage us as parents to simply observe, listen and explore our young ones as best we can. Developing an awareness of our childs needs through celebrating strengths and acknowledging areas that would benefit from monitoring and developing.

Have a look at these and just explore, even if you think it doesn’t fit your young one then have some fun defining your own animal, car, plant… whatever.

Otterotter

Imaginative, easily distracted, creative, dramatic, ideas, spontaneous, entertainers… these are often the children with ‘imaginary friends’ or who you see in the Spiderman outfit!  Putting them in ‘time out’ often not effective as they really don’t care that much. Reward them with fun and praise them for originality.

Beaverbeever

Practical, punctual, precise. A fan of rules, lists and step-by-step instructions. Likes structure and to get things right the first time. Children will often play ‘real’ games like shop, restaurant… and aim to draw pictures realistically rather than imaginatively.

lionLion

Direct and competitive, strong-willed, assertive. Likes to be treated as an equal, they don’t like authority. Yelling and putting them in ‘time out’ won’t work. You need to stay calm, involve them in decision-making and give them some responsibility.

Retrieverretriever

Caring, affectionate and empathetic. Likes to keep everyone happy (sometimes at the expense of themselves), likes to follow the rules and be ‘good’, needs praise and encouragement and to feel special. Can be loyal to a fault. Just the mention of being put in ‘time out’ will often result in good behaviour as they don’t like to be separated from the group or to be ‘bad’.

So, which one is your young one, better still which one might you be and how can this inform how you parent?

 

Pastoral Leadership: Listen Before You Leap

I recently got into a conversation with a new senior manager at a high school. We talked about what takes a leader from professional competence (looks the part and keeps working through the ‘to do’ list and ‘to see’ folk) to a nurturer of authentic change. I am primarily talking about pastoral care of our students and the role we as educators have. When I refer to pastoral leaders I refer to every member of the school community from the canteen staff, students and teachers all the way up to the Principal. I am fortunate to be surrounded by incredible educators that far exceed the expectations of any job description. They bring about change through relationships that are firm, fair, consistent and from a position of genuine care for a students wellbeing. We all know this isn’t always the case and even the best of folk have their off day.

The huge shift I see in schools at the moment is one to student lead, and therefore change based on student voice. To sympathise a person may ask and then listen to what happened, whereas an empathetic leader would genuinely want to explore the whys. The difference between processing the problem and acknowledging the uniqueness of everyone we come into contact with is a more effective position. It is a conversation of reciprocated learning, modelling the very behaviours we hope to hear and see. It is not losing Mana, control or power, in fact the very opposite. This is how you affect change one by one, and beyond one incident but toward ongoing growth.

An example: A student wears the incorrect shoes for three days, following school policy and procedure, post warning they are now into after school detention land. Until…. the student ‘loses the plot’ after receiving an additional detention slip for ongoing ‘minor defiance’ (not attending original detention). This results in a ‘major defiance’ and a stand down. The teachers perspective, the student is just plain defiant and being a teenager so must get punished. It’s then far more than just interesting to explore the the student’s experience towards informing the why? As it happens the school shoes had just been bought in anticipation for a new start in the safe place that is school. This student has endured an abusive home environment almost all of their life. Unfortunately, these same new shoes were used to assault a number of family members the night before he was first pulled up by teachers, to the extent the students mum was hospitalised with serious injuries. These shoes were seized as evidence in the intended prosecution of his father.

expelled

If you get anything from this post then I hope its this: It’s very rarely black and white when it comes to school misbehaviour or discipline. Is it brave or just plain common sense to come alongside the student and dare to listen just as much as talk. It’s not necessarily setting out to justify a behaviour, but more to inform the context and reasoning with the hope of preventing future incidents and exploring better responses for better outcomes. 

The biggest point to be made in terms of pastoral leadership is that it is not hierarchical, every member of a school community from the students to the Principal are all pastoral leaders. This philosophy is no longer a feel good gimmick that can be rolled out prior to inspection time. It is increasingly and quite rightly being acknowledged as fundamental to a strong school community. Wellbeing measures as a tool for measuring educational success is growing, and when embraced beyond rhetoric is a fantastic juggernaut  that showers both staff and students with the benefits.

You Get What You Look For

Two children, two different approaches. The first child stands in front of you and you direct them to ‘head outside and somewhere on that sports field you’ll find $20’. This young one then turns and heads on over towards the sports field. The second bowls on in and you deliver a different instruction, ‘head out there and somewhere on that sports field you’ll find some rubbish’. For both children they are instructed to bring what they are tasked with finding back to you. Which one do you think will complete the task in the quickest time and with a slight spring in there step? Secondly, which is more likely to find the rubbish and which is more likely to retrieve the money. To be fair, i’ll eliminate two variables that many school staff or parents will be quick to highlight. No, the second one doesn’t slide down in the seat and stage a sit in, and thanks to the impressive building budget, the sound proofing is second in impressiveness to only a Sony recording studio, so the second is unaware of the $20 floating around outside. The point: You get what you look for. This principle remains a struggle in many schools and families. Why? well, perhaps we haven’t come as far as we would have liked, from children are to be seen and not heard, and the understanding that we are the adults so if i say, you do. We all know that that in many situations this simple and wonderfully hopeful mantra is destined for a less than positive outcome.

discipline

We do love our consequences, and for 98% of young folk that works, heck it works for everyone. If we were to as much as see a car in the distance flashing its headlights, we slam on the breaks and look with an indescribable intensity for the mobile speed camera, so we can glare and shake our heads with suitable disapproval. Most of us are more than eager to conform to social expectations and the notion of what is right and wrong. Reigning this in from my own drive home from work this afternoon to working with our young ones. The challenge we face is the 2% ‘ers, for which consequences are entertainment rather than a deterrent. I believe it is so important to then delve deeper into the function of the behaviour but for many school staff and parents it is paramount we change tact, as if you do what you always have done, you continue to see the same outcome. This makes little sense, and quite possibly reinforces the behaviour and damages the relationship that could potentially be the best opportunity for positive change.

lifting the lid

We can modify behaviour  by challenging the children to lift the lid. That is lifting the lid of their expectations of themselves, as well as challenging ourselves to lift the lid of our expectations of the child and limitless and being available to see the enormous potential of the children. This requires retraining the children and adults that connect with each other to acknowledging the positive steps and embracing positive steps forward towards a better outcome.

One example i’d like to offer is terribly simple but continues to work without failure (touch wood). Get your conduct books or daily report cards out and have a look at the wording, tone and direction. So, look for what the booklet or strategy is aiming to highlight. Is it catching the negative behaviours for the student to then carry around for the day or celebrating moments of positive behaviours in the hope that it reinforces what you want to see and hear? Who is taking responsibility for the behaviour? Are you enabling change or disabling change?

It doesn’t take long to flip the approach so it is both enabling positive change, and the responsibility for behaviours is positioned with the right person, the student or child themselves. This objective can then be supported  by adults.

So, you get what you look for. Expect the student or child to raise their own expectations of themselves and lift the lid in terms of reaching their potential. Quite possibly the greatest challenge is to refresh/retrain the adults to search for, capture and acknowledge the positives. Damned hard at times, but worth it, especially when investing in the long game.

 

 

Monkey: Return to Sender

When someone told me I could not only read a whole book in an afternoon, but that it would be a professional life changer, I had to see for myself. So, I read it, ‘The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey’ by Ken Blanchard. Awesome, on a number of levels that I’m sure will prove versatile in meeting the needs and expectation of most readers. For me, the principles continue to inform both my personal and professional lives, heck even my parenting.

Now, it wouldn’t take a genius to suggest that referring to your employees or colleagues as monkey’s may well not be the best move you can make. That is not at all the context or positioning of the book. The monkey refers to ‘the next move’, not a personal dig at all. The message is a proudly positive one of empowerment for both you and those around you all.

monkey off back

It is my, your, our task to deal to our own monkeys and not owning the stress, anxiety or pressures of someone elses’.

I was reminded only this morning of a simple example of this in my own parenting. Like many families our morning routine is filled with action, organised chaos and excitement at the prospect we could all leave the house on time with a skip in our step and nothing going amiss. Quite a while ago now we celebrated the proud landmark of our toddler getting himself dressed. With immense pride we would walk him to day care, the shops, well just about anywhere to share this occasion with everyone and anyone. I am aware that from the untrained (slightly judgmental) eye, this may in fact look more like shoddy (even careless) parenting, as his T-shirt would be back to front, shorts inside out and shoes facing outwards. Regardless, he dressed himself and that is awesome, high fives all round. The point; my son’s monkey (next move) was getting himself dressed. This was one less monkey for us which dramatically reduced the number of times we forgot our keys or lunch. So developmental benchmark achieved for our son and some breathing space for his mum and dad.

One morning we found ourselves dressing our son, it had developed over a couple of weeks, but due to our own monkeys, our patience had reduced, therefore it was just quicker for us to get him dressed. When I realised this and set his clothes out, expecting him to simply continue to complete a task he was more than capable of achieving, he didn’t, instead tears and the prone position became the default. And in the blink of an eye I realised that monkey had been masterfully returned to his parents. We had inadvertently not just added a money to our own back unnecessarily, but dis-empowered our young fella from feeling able and competent at dressing himself. To then get frustrated with him for not dressing himself with efficiency and the right way out and colour matched would be completely unfair.

The most powerful step towards changing this momentum was and is to stop, take the stunned monkey off your own shoulders before acknowledging and naming it. In this case, if it’s not your monkey, make sure the right person has it, if it’s yours, then act on it and don’t try to fob it off to some kind-hearted rescuer, or inpatient parent, boss or colleague.

If you take on other people’s monkeys you are disempowering them in the long-term. Reinforcing a dependence on you, which is a bit of a slap in the face to the other persons own resilience and capabilities.If you hand your own monkey onto others then be prepared for short-term gain , long term loss.

The challenge and yet rewarding part can be reorganising the monkeys, so own those that are yours and support others to own their own, the earlier the better. This has always got to be developmentally appropriate and within the competency of those involved in the first place, so getting my young one to day care is my monkey not his for example.

What does this look like for a manager?crazy office monkey

A team meeting where you leave with all the actions needed whilst your team are left twiddling their thumbs until you have actioned their ‘next step’. A lot of work and stress, and it’s not even your own. If each team member leaves with their own monkey then you celebrate their strengths and competence, and therefore their confidence to grow and make energetic strides forward. Everyone is a winner when done appropriately and well. As a manager your time can then be spent on innovation and growth, which is a big deal no matter where you work, whether at a school or as a company CEO.