• Yvette E. McDonald, LCSW

Reminders from the Coach on Sitting On the Sidewalk

Updated: Oct 4, 2019

Some fresh perspective and tools on a concept I speak about regularly within parent coaching sessions with regards to becoming an emotion coach to your child.

Today let's take a minute or so to remind ourselves about the topic of Sitting on the Sidewalk and how to effectively implement this skill with your child.



Sitting on the Sidewalk: is a parents task when they put their listening skills to work. Its metaphorically sitting and listening to their child's heart regarding anything and everything they are willing to share.


The process:


Your job as a parent is to be:

  • natural

  • patient

  • encouraging

  • listenting

  • avoid telling your child what to feel or what they shouldn't feel

  • encourage an honest exchange of thoughts and feelings while permitting your child to feel



Your response as a parent is to:

  • communicate empathy and understanding (which does not mean you agree it just means you understand)

  • be compassionate

  • be non-judgemental

  • listen more than you talk

  • ask open-ended questions that encourage them to share more (seek to understand)

  • show acceptance of whatever feelings and thoughts they are having

  • do not solve their problem or give advice

  • communicate that you hear them

  • KEY: hear what they are saying or try to put yourself in their shoes, acknowledging that you understand what they are saying

These situations can present themselves at various times and at unexpected moments. There's the moment in which a child becomes extremely vulnerable out of nowhere. This action throws parents leaving them scrambling for what to say next and how to respond. Then there's the situations in which your child has placed themselves into a difficult situation or relationship due to their own decisions. Here they need you just the same to sit on the sidewalk and listen to them.


When you enter a "sitting on the sidewalk" situation your only goal is to facilitate the free flow of information allowing yourself to dive into the inner working of your child's heart and mind. The younger you create this pattern of interaction the better, as it will enable you to lay a strong foundation of love, support, listening and trust as your child gets older. You will become the go to parent to talk to and unpack with.


Lastly, if there is any problem solving to be had remember that you must empathize and understand before you can problem solve or give any advice. Theodore Roosevelt said it nicely when he said:


"Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care."

There is a time and place for everything, everything has its own season. Which means there is a time to listen and a time to problem solve. You are free to ask your child at the end if you can offer some advice or if they would like to problem solve with you (if the situation in which they are sharing calls for it.) If not you can bring it up a couple of days later by stating "I was thinking about what we were talking about the other day and wanted to see how we can learn and grow from this situation."


KEY TAKE AWAY: Parents must be available to listen!


Working through your own emotions:


As easy as this all sounds it has the potential to be difficult at certain times and with certain conversations. Why? Because our feelings as parents can get in the way. These conversations have all the potential to stir up our own emotions, shifting the focus of the conversation away from the child. As you listen you need to be self aware. Be mindful of your triggers, past emotional injuries or anything else that can make this a challenging parenting moment as oppose to an opportunity to connect.


If you find yourself being triggered:

  1. Recognize that you are having your own emotional reaction to what is being said. Your reaction may or may not have anything to do with the child as past emotional injuries, memories or experiences may be surfacing.

  2. Manage your emotional responses. I like to tell parents to put it in a box to be opened up at a later more suitable time. If you find it difficult to do and need a break let you your child know this has nothing to do with them but that you'll need to put a temporary pause on the conversation for 20 minutes, catch your breathe and then start where you left off.

  3. Refocus on your child and be the best listener you can be.



Click here: https://www.gottman.com/blog/how-to-stress-reducing-conversation/ and you'll find an explanation of a somewhat similar strategy known as the "Stress Reducing Conversation" in which you can implement within your adult relationships.


Want to learn more on the topic? Check out topics such as holding space and how to be a good listener.




Traveling Light Counseling is in the heart of Port Saint Lucie, FL and easily assessable from both Vero Beach and Martin County due to our close proximity to US1 and the Turnpike. I am committed to helping couples and parents level up and navigate their relationships with intentionality .


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