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Different Parenting Roles for Different Needs

By Roger Ellerton PhD, CMC

"Your children need your presence more than your presents." --Jesse Jackson
Parenting is the process of helping your children to 1) become aware of their potential, 2) expand their wings beyond their family and 3) perform and evolve at the peak of their abilities in a safe, supportive environment. It involves drawing out their strengths and helping them to bypass personal barriers and limits in order to achieve their personal best.

Each child is a unique individual, and each has their own schedule for growing up. At each stage of their growth, their needs and expectations from their parents will change. To meet these needs, parents take on different roles and communicate with each child according to that child's focus, style and age requirements. As a parent, you play six primary roles - sometimes two or three at the same time; at other times, one specific role may dominate. These roles, which require a different mindset, tools and techniques and approaches, range from providing your children with the necessities of life (environment) to making them aware of their potential (purpose in life) in a larger context than their current experience with their family or circle of friends.

  1. Caretaker and guide
    In these combined roles, your focus is on your children's environment (where, when and with whom). As a caretaker, you promote your children's development by providing safe and supportive play, learning or work environments free from unnecessary outside distractions. As a guide, you're familiar with the territory (at minimum, more familiar than your children) and provide guidance and direction on possible paths they can take to achieve their desired outcomes.

  2. Coach
    Traditional coaching, which is referred to here, is focused on what your children are doing - their behaviors. As a coach, you help your children perform to the best of their abilities by identifying and encouraging specific action steps they can take to reach a successful conclusion.

  3. Teacher
    For the most part, teachers provide information and instruction on how to do a task or achieve an outcome. As a teacher, you help your children develop new strategies, skills and capabilities for thinking and taking action, rather than focusing on a particular accomplishment in a specific situation. With your assistance, they discover and refine many of their unconscious competencies, making these a way of life.

  4. Mentor
    In the mentor role, you provide guidance and influence to generate and strengthen important beliefs and values for your children, and you function as an appropriate role model.

  5. Sponsor
    Being a sponsor, you recognize, acknowledge and promote an attribute or identity that is already within your children, but that is not yet fully apparent or that they are not yet aware of. You do not have to be a role model; you may not have the same skills as the attribute being sponsored.

  6. Awakener
    As an awakener, you bring to your children's attention something larger than themselves (family, community, spirituality) and the purpose/vision that is awaiting them.
Each of the above roles includes follow-up on your children's progress by providing respectful and timely feedback. This feedback includes praise and suggestions for improvement to help them learn and grow. For example, as a coach you provide feedback with regard to the actions your children have or have not taken, while a mentor will model and provide direction on specific beliefs or values that are important.

These competencies of caretaking/guiding, coaching, teaching, mentoring, sponsoring and awakening are essential skills for supporting your children. Each of the different levels of support requires a different interaction between you and your children, as well as a different tool set and abilities. Many situations will require a combination of these competencies.

These six roles have a hierarchy. The skills and abilities related to a particular role must include and also transcend the skills of all of the previous levels. That is, a teacher must have and exhibit the skills and abilities of a coach, a caretaker/guide and more. On the other hand, a guide may not possess or need to exhibit the skills and abilities of a coach.

Copyright © Roger Ellerton 2010
Roger Ellerton, PhD, CMC is a life coach, NLP trainer and author. This article is an excerpt from his most recent book, "Parents' Handbook: NLP and Common Sense Guide for Family Well-Being," see

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