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  • Rachel Rothman Borrero, LCSW-R

Goooo Team!: 4 ways a team mentality can help your family

Team working together

The complex dynamics of a family’s various personalities, communication styles and temperaments are hard to equate to anything else. And yet, metaphors abound. A family can be described as anything – a car, a computer, a business - anything with multiple parts that interact with and rely on one another to be successful and remain functional as a whole.

My favorite metaphor for families is being a team. Almost everyone is exposed to teams. It is something everyone has an experience with. (** An important side note: for some children [especially those with an Autism diagnosis, Social Communication challenges or ADHD] a team can be extremely difficult to understand or can be a source of anxiety; but, it remains something nearly all experience). The idea of a team is simple – a group of people with various skills who must work together towards common goals in order to succeed or to win. Such a simple idea for such a complex activity.

So, how can a parent get their team players in line? This post is written with the intent of focusing on immediate family (i.e. parental figures and children), but that does not mean that extended family members are not part of the family team. They very much are, and can be included should you choose to invite them to ‘team meetings.’ Here are 4 ways to start helping your family function better as a team in order to maximize their ability to work together, be successful and most of all maintain their love, connection and understanding of one another:

1. Team Work: Children can be taught teamwork from a very early age. Teamwork is just two or more people working together towards the same goal. This can relate to cleaning up toys, older siblings helping younger siblings, shoe tying, studying, cooking, parenting! The list can go on and on. The important thing in the teaching is to reference “great teamwork!” at the end of any task. It reinforces the idea that you and another just succeeded and that you did so together! You met your goal. You were a great team! Even if some yelling, frustration or tears were involved, if in the end you completed your goal together then you were in fact a working team. Teams don’t start off perfect! Successful teams work at it. They bond, they communicate, they understand. To accomplish that takes a lot of time, patience and, yes, failures.

2. Talk about the failures: All families go through times or have interactions when things feel like (or truly are) utter failures. There is no shame in this – only the chance to think about failure not as a loss, but as a learning opportunity. Talking about what went wrong is akin to reviewing game tapes to see what plays didn’t work. As the parent it’s up to you to take a moment to step back and try to be as objective as possible about a situation. What was your role? What was your team’s role? How did it all go down? Then figure out a game plan for next time. Repeating the same failed “play” will get you nowhere. Keep in mind though, not all ‘messy’ plays are failures. Even if an interaction was ugly and full of frustration, deep breathing and eye rolling, the big question is – did your team meet its goal? If the answer is yes, well then that’s a success. Then you’re discussing how to tweak things to make them go more smoothly rather than how to start over with a whole new approach. For example, a 6-year-old is trying her very best to tie her own shoes. Her mother offers help, but the child screams and refuses this. The mother continues to offer help because they are running late. The two continue this conflict until the mom shifts to teamwork – mom will tie the bow and the child pulls it tight. Success – a shoe is tied! Was it pretty? No. Was it fast? No. Was it smooth? No. Did they meet their goal? Yes. Great teamwork! So this ‘play’ so to speak need not be totally trashed, just reviewed and tweaked for improvement. Had the task ended in shoes being thrown across a room, appointments missed and tears for all involved then THAT would a ‘play’ that needs to get trashed with a totally new approach created.

3. Revel in your successes: To repeat: sometimes what looks like a failure may actually be a team win – even if earned after a tough battle. There are those rare parenting moments when a parent will say “Oh my goodness, I’m a parenting genius!” They may not happen often, but oh when they do – mmmmm, fantastic! These moments of triumph can be shared as a team. You see, often parents are the family team’s coach (see #4 below) and it’s your job to get the team on board with the plan, steering them away from the edge of failure and back to the road to success. When there is a success, it should be as much your success as your players’. For example: It was bath time, but the 5-year-old child was of the opinion that it was play time. Parent and child both knew the goal, but one team member wasn’t up to it. One team member was screaming, crying and throwing things - not at all ready to step up to the plate so to speak. The parent opted to engage in a game rather than fall prey to their own bubbling frustration and turn the interaction into a one-on-one combat sport. With that thought in mind ‘Undress Freeze Dance’ was born! The parent opted to engage in play, and her teammate (uh, her 5-year-old) got on board. Within five minutes that kid was naked and ready for the bath with a smile on her face. Oh, what a moment of parenting genius! However, without a somewhat willing team member and a great coach it would never have happened. Keeping that team communicating and connecting was the magic ingredient. Great teamwork!

4. Be a stellar coach: All teams have players and coaches, leaders or bosses. There will be times when your family team members are not all equal on the playing field of life. You will have MVPs, players in a slump, reliable score makers, players on probation and more. Very often parents need to remember that they are both part of the team, but also the coach of the family team. What that means is very often what you’re going through does not matter. Your needs take a back seat. And there will be lots of times when you will have to pull rank. There will be times when you can’t just hang out and joke around with the rest of the team; when you must be above the snide remarks or work to ignore the angry, sad, disappointed feelings that can lead to team conflict. Coaches must often work very hard to stay in control of their own emotions when faced with exceedingly challenging players. Coaches very often must check their egos at the door in order for their team to succeed. This is humbling to say the least. Coaches are often the unsung heroes of a team though. They are often the secret weapon that takes a losing, disconnected, frustrated team, and through lots of really hard work turns that same team into national champions. Parents almost never hear directly from their kids (especially pre-teens or adolescents) how great they’re doing or how appreciated they are. The satisfaction and the success must be found in stepping back and surveying your team. When your team succeeds, well my dear coaches extraordinaire, then you are in fact the everlasting MVP.

If you have concerns about how your family interacts, understands one another or communicates reach out and ask for help. Sometimes a whole family may need a “boot camp,” while other times the coaches just need a training workshop to better guide their players. Call me today to see if I can help.

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