Creative family coach teaches coping 'superpowers' to kids dealing with stress of parents' divorce

Updated: May 15, 2020

Have you ever wished you had superpowers to help you through life?

For two little boys, Michelle Massie — a family coaching specialist at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota — made that dream a reality.

After their mom and dad divorced, the boys had trouble sleeping at night. When they spent the night at their dad’s house, they were too worried about mom to fall asleep. While they were at their mom’s house, they worried about dad.

Each night, the boys would get anxious and emotional. Of course, their mom and dad were heartbroken about what was going on. They tried everything. They did not know what to do or where to turn.

That’s when they heard about Family Coaching through LSSND.

Brothers still regularly rely on their 'Pokémon powers'

The first time the boys met with Massie, they brought their Pokémon cards along. While they were shy at first, they opened up when she asked about the cards. Massie said she “put on [her] thinking cap,” and began to brainstorm ways to connect with the boys and teach them positive coping skills as they adjusted to their parents’ divorce.

That’s when she had an idea.

“Every week that I met with them, I gave them a new ‘Pokémon power,’” said Massie. “One week, it was the ‘birthday candle breathing.’ One week it was journaling before bed. It was all different coping skills.”

Additionally, Massie came up with a schedule where the boys could call mom or dad at the same time every night before bed. Equipped with “Pokémon powers” and a new routine, the boys were well on their way toward thriving.

Recently, the boys’ mom called Massie to share that their coping skills work so well they use them not only at bedtime, but also in other areas of their lives when they feel anxious or stressed.

“The boys said that their Pokémon powers helped them through having a hard test or being anxious on the playground and even through being nervous about the Coronavirus,” said Massie.

After hearing how well the boys were doing with their new coping skills, Massie was ready to say goodbye to the boys and bring her work with the family to a close.

“It really verified to me that no matter what we’re going through, all we really need is some support and some tools,” said Massie. “And those can be used all throughout life.”

This is truly the goal of the Family Coaching program at LSSND — to help families navigate through any crises or “bumps in the road” and provide the support and tools they need to navigate hardships in the future. Just like the boys with their Pokémon powers, coaches give familes their own “superpowers” to overcome the challenges of life.

And then they are on their way again.

“These services are all designed to help people identify the strengths and the skills that they already have and then build upon them so they do not need our services forever,” said Janell Regimbal, vice president of Children’s Services at LSSND. “We think that’s really what families need.”

Coaching is just one of three services in free Family-Strengthening Hubs

Family Coaching falls under a broader initiative at LSSND called Family-Strengthening Hubs. Located in the Grand Forks, Dickinson and Watford City areas, these hubs provide families with the support they need at every stage of life.

The hubs' other service areas include Healthy Families, a program in which trained and compassionate home visitors provide parents with support, insight and resources during a child's first three years of life, and DIVERT, a program that helps youth avoid becoming involved in the court system while working to keep families together.

Since the three Family-Strengthening Hubs launched in 2019, 351 families have been referred to them for services. Even as in-person services are paused in response to the coronavirus pandemic, family coaches continue to find ways to connect with families virtually.

“It’s very interesting coaching over a screen,” said Massie. “If I can tell that a kid is not really

Michelle Massie finds creative ways to keep kids engaged.

‘in it’ anymore, I’ll ask them to put on a song and we’ll bust out a dance party. Sometimes, I’ll have them get markers and stuff ready, and I’ll do a project with them and we keep sharing it back and forth.”

Even with the added challenges of working with families remotely, coaches have used it as a chance to be creative and innovative with ways to keep families and children engaged and moving forward.

While the program is less than a year old, Family Coaching quickly became a resource for families of all ages, sizes and life experiences.

“We work with clients here and now,” said Massie. “It’s families who are getting divorced or going through a custody hearing, a grandparent dying, a kid feeling alienated from friends or acting out at home — really anything a family could be going through.”

Recognizing that life is full of transitions, families with children of any age can receive Family Coaching services free of charge as a proactive and early-intervention approach.

Family coaches walk alongside families through all kinds of experiences — be it a parent returning to work and adjusting to a new work-life balance, or a family preparing for a senior’s graduation and the challenges of learning to let go and find new ways to relate to one another. Coaches have even provided services simply to help families learn how to better relate and communicate with each other. At any point in life, we’ll be there.

“A tagline that we cannot use enough is that everyone needs a little help sometimes,” said Regimbal. “Reaching out at a time when you may be having a struggle is not a sign of weakness. It’s actually a sign of great strength and something that will help you build resiliency in the future.”

If you or someone you know is in need of help, turn to LSSND at 701-223-1510 or You are not alone. We'll be there.

– Micayla Bitz

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