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How to Help Someone Discover Their Effectiveness

September 5, 2017


A week ago Bec and I watched the movie Queen of Katwe, a true story about a girl growing up in the slums of Katwe who stumbled upon the game of chess, which became her family's ticket out of poverty. (Spoiler alert!) Crucially in her story was her coach who spotted her talent and pushed her to pursue her dream of becoming a chess master. I found the dynamic between student and coach very interesting. At the start the coach needed to simply show love and provided food (literally) for her. Then as she discovered that she had this talent she believed that she was unbeatable, and her coach needed to pull her back to give her a more realistic view of where she was at. Towards the end of the movie though, as she played a crucial game and was cracking under the pressure, her coach shouts out from the sidelines (which wasn't allowed by the way), "You BELONG here!" He said it a number of times, she got the message, beat her opponent and was on her way to becoming a chess master.


What this movie demonstrated to me was the very real difficulty in helping a person develop into their effectiveness. On Sunday I spoke about 2 things parents need to provide for their children, which was unconditional love, and a sense of effectiveness: that they can actually do something with their lives. This blog post focuses on this second ingredient.


Here are my thoughts, collected from my readings and experience. I intend this to be thought stimulating rather than "do this and you won't go wrong".



Being a part of a family means enjoying all of its benefits, but also taking a fair share of responsibility. In a culture of entitlement and immediacy, I believe that it is becoming essential that responsibility starts from home. On a personal note, my parents instilled in me from young that once I hit a certain age I would have to start contributing to the family through weekly chores. These chores were not linked to pocket money or anything; they were part of my responsibility to family. I did NOT like or enjoy it, and I probably let my parents know on multiple occasions, but my preference did not change my responsibilities. I believe that this is something that helped shaped my work ethic.


2. Clarify the path toward AUTONOMY.

Autonomy is about your child being able to make their own choices. This is the big difficulty in teenage-hood. It is about understanding the level of autonomy they have. I believe that most teenagers want autonomy in some areas of their lives, but are actually afraid of autonomy in others. They want to be to choose their own friends, but are really scared of making career choices because it could affect the rest of their lives. I believe that we need to clarify the path toward autonomy.


This can look like giving your child the choice in smaller issues, and when it comes time to make bigger decisions, refer back to how they had made good choices before so they can be trusted to make bigger choices. This is also where I believe CONSISTENCY is SO IMPORTANT. If you have been allowing your child to make certain choices for a while, and then when you see that they are making a bad choice you step in and take away that choice, it is confusing. I understand that you are only acting in their best interest, but such actions could be communicating to your child that they can't get it right, and that you're always going to step in. This either builds resentment or causes them to stop making decisions, or some combination of both.


The solution is not easy, but I believe if you have previously given them autonomy already, you need to respect that. You can give autonomy by being deliberate about it, or it could be because you simply didn't say or do anything about decisions they have made. That is why I would advocate for a deliberate path toward autonomy. Lay it out with your child about when they can step into a new level of autonomy, and be consistent with it.


3. Demonstrate AGENCY.

Help your child see that they can do something about the difficulty and/or situation they feel deeply about. As a parent, I'm sure one of the first reactions you have when you see your child struggling is to step in. Sometimes this is necessary, but other times you are telling them that they are not strong or capable to deal with the situation. Help them develop a plan of action, and them support them in implementing that plan of action. This also helps their problem-solving abilities. I am personally shocked at how many young people lack the ability to slow down and think through their actions and what they can choose to do. They simply rush headlong into decisions with no problem-solving sense. Why? Because they have not learnt that they have agency, that they can make a real difference to the situation they face.



These are 3 things that I try to keep in mind when I work with young people. So far, they seem to help shape a sense of purpose and effectiveness in them. At the same time I am sure there is much for me to continue to learn. Why not join the conversation and comment with your thoughts?

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