Curious, Open, Aware, Loving….. COAL for the kids and for us



This acronym, as if we need one more, is from Daniel Siegel, MD, who has for many years been exploring the brain, mindfulness and the world of parenting.

If I got the story right at a talk he gave in Austin a few years ago, he had been delving deeply for many years into what made good parenting, and had come up with something like COAL, but basically, his conclusion was that a mindful attitude was the core to good parenting.

At a meeting somewhere, someone asked what he did, and he said, he helped parents be more mindful, and they said, “Oh, you must be a Buddhist,” and he asked why?

He’s stumbled on mindfulness from the empirical evidence of how to be the best parent, and had not been aware of the Buddhist use of the word.

I may have that wrong.

Anyway, it’s a good story, and the truth is this:

If you want to have a life with as little stress as possible, be mindful.

If you want to be the best parent possible, be mindful.

And what the heck does that mean?

It means to be aware of two things at once:
What’s going on in you ( preferable at at least three levels: body, emotions and thoughts)
Be aware of what’s going on outside of you ( blue sky, smiling child, yelling child, hazy sky, birds singing)
to not judge what you are aware of.

That’s the rub:
To be aware

Is that possible?


People often do better with animals, or with friends and children when the friends and children aren’t causing a ruckus, but we can expand.

We can expand using

to help us.

Our child is having a hard time.
Judging this is wrong …. you know where that’s going to lead
Getting curious about this… we don’t know where it’s going to lead,
but this has a good chance of happening:
The child is going to feel seen.

This is what we all want.
To be seen.
When we are up.
When we are down.

It’s hell, and you know it, to only be seen or acknowledged when you are a happy camper or getting all A’s. This isn’t being seen. This is being rewarded for being a well trained seal.

This can seem to work in the short run, and is emotional hell in the long run.
For any child.
For any adult.
Ask Marilyn Monroe.

So here’s our job.

Whatever our child is up to,
over exctied

to be
Curious about what’s going on

to be
about what we discover
which means, NOT TO JUDGE, where it’s supposed to go next,
nor even have too tight a mental/ emotional fit on
“What it means”

to be
of our own responses
of our child’s breathing, and patterns, and …. wish to communicate
our own feelings in our body,
in our emotions
our own conditioned thoughts,
and ideas about “what other people will think”

to be
of the imperfection in ourselves
in our child
to be loving
of what we are discovering
of what we are open to
or what we are aware of

And this doesn’t mean,
everything has to stay just as it is, forever and ever,

But you have to get connected
you have to know where you are right now,
before you can move to the next place

And with COAL,
once the rapport is established
you can try some variation
or some game
or some communication

either that you think you’d like
or you think the child would like
some game/ communication/ action you’d BOTH like

I think parents get too stuck, sometimes in being too good

Let’s find something that’s fun for both of you

It might not be easy

But when it happens,
it’s going to feel a lot like

and that’s what we all want,
isn’t it?

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