What Can King Triton (from Disney’s The Little Mermaid) Discover in a Coaching Session?

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Introduction: 

When King Triton discovers that Ariel has been visiting the surface and the human world, he forbids her to go back there again. With all his masculine strength and power he pronounces that she will not do that again. With special light and sound effects, he makes his point heard, his decision final, his determination clear and his power known. Ariel responds by moving towards someone who will listen, understand and try to help her. She moves forward with her plan independently, unaware of the risks that await her. Later in the show, Triton will try to save her soul from Ursula the sea-witch.

Power plays and controlling circumstances are lose-lose scenarios. While the parent (or teacher, manager, leader) may win her way in the short run, it is usually at the expense of the child’s sense of self and/or trust in the relationship between the parent and child. Sometimes a parent may seem to win, but the child just continues doing things secretly just as Ariel does. Other times, in slow subtle ways, the child retreats from doing much at all. Most often when the adult chooses control and authoritarian rule, the choice for the child is powerlessness or anger and rebellion. So what is a parent (teacher, manager, leader) to do?

Maybe listening to this coaching session will help you start to think of ideas.

Leah: It’s nice to meet you King Triton. I’m truly honored for the opportunity to coach you. So, what is something that’s been going really well for you? Maybe something that inspires you?

Triton: My daughters are the jewels of my kingdom. They light up the dark seas, and bring joy to my life. They bring light and laughter to the court!

Leah: (Catching the light tone of his voice) How lovely to hear you talk about your daughters with such delight! Your voice lightens when you talk about them.

Triton: (Laughs) I suppose it does. And yes, they are delightful. And, with six of them, I have no challenges. They are sweet, obedient and easy to predict…

Leah: Six?!

Triton: Yes. I really struggle with the seventh. Ariel. She seems to have a mind of her own and it’s not any place where I can find it! I found out she’d been to the surface and been with humans. She’s been collecting a lot of human stuff! She has no idea what a danger humans can be to us. I’m so afraid for her.

Leah: It sounds like you care deeply about your daughters and their safety.

Triton: Yes! It’s my job to protect them. How can I protect her when she goes beyond the boundaries of the kingdom. She doesn’t understand… (his voice trails off)

Leah: (after a pause in case Triton has something to add) You have used the word understand a few times now. You want to understand Ariel, she doesn’t understand the dangers.

Triton: Hmm, yes. If I could understand what she was thinking, or if I could make her understand the dangers…

Leah: So, how could you do that?

Triton: Well I told her that she is forbidden to go to the human world again! I used my King voice, my trident and my powers to show her I was serious and I meant it!

Leah: And did that help her to understand?

Triton: Of course it did!

Leah: Really, that’s great! ….How do you know?

Triton: (Silence) Hmm… Now that you ask me…I just thought it was obvious that she heard me. She did react…

Leah: Just now when you said that you forbade her to go to the human world, and showing that you were serious, your whole tone changed. It sounded harder, brasher.

Triton: Hmm.

Leah: It didn’t have the love in it that I heard earlier in our conversation today.

Triton: Ohhh.  (Quiet as his brain starts to make connections)  So, are you suggesting that she only heard the anger, not the protection?

Leah: What do you think she saw and heard from her father in that moment?

Triton: Hmm (Starts to laugh) I guess I sounded like my own father, pretty angry. He could be scary. I didn’t really understand him until I became a father…

Oh. I see. She might not really have understood at all. Then what do I do? How do I help her to understand? (He gets quiet again thinking…) ….I don’t want to tell her all the things that have happened to us because of humans… Unless…. maybe that’s how she will understand?

Leah: It sounds to me like even though fear of what could happen drives the way you communicate, you don’t actually communicate the fear.

Triton: I never thought about it that way. But! A king is supposed to be strong and obeyed! Not fearful and….vulnerable. I’m not supposed to show her my fear.

Leah: (playfully) Hmm, I wonder which rule book says that? I haven’t seen it…

Triton: (his voice lightening) True, true… (Laughing ) That’s because nobody ever had seven daughters before!!

(They laugh together.)

Triton: Okay, so if I want her to understand, I have to find a way to tell her about the danger and that it makes me fearful. Ugh, I don’t want to talk about my feelings! (Some light laughter…)

Leah: Do you have to?

Triton: Hmm…Can I tell her about the dangers and get her to understand it without telling her how it makes me feel? I could do that. I’ve never taken her to the museum of the sunken ships and showed her the canons and guns humans carry…

Leah: Sounds like you are starting to have some new ideas!

Does this resonate for you as a parent and help you think about any new possibilities?
If King Triton’s goal is to keep his child safe, what else might he try?

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