Kids given life coaches
Busy parents hire professionals to guide their young children
Back in May, Bernadette Dancy decided it was time to find a life and confidence coach. The self-confessed planner took a strategic approach: comparing their experience, qualifications and philosophies before deciding on the best fit. Not for herself, or for her sports psychologist husband Paul, 39 — but for their four-year-old son.
“Callum is an emotionally intelligent boy,” explains the personal trainer, 37, from Surrey, “not afraid of showing his emotions, good and bad. But he’s also a pleaser and a high achiever, which meant tantrums and emotional outbursts when he couldn’t do something to the high standards he set himself. He’d started using negative affirmations about things not being good enough.”
The scenario, if not necessarily the language used to couch it, will be familiar to many parents. But whilst some might turn to their own parents or an online forum — or, of course, simply sit tight and wait it out — Bernadette looked a little down the line, saw a school system that didn’t prioritise emotional intelligence, and took matters firmly into her own hands.
“Going to primary school, we were aware he’d come up against some challenges, that his confidence could be knocked. My husband and I have PhDs in sport psychology and with our understanding of the mind and mental health we wanted to be proactive in helping him be as mentally confident as possible.”
Step forward Natalie Costa, 35, London-based coach and founder of Power Thoughts (powerthoughts.co.uk). The former primary school teacher has worked with 975 children, both in school groups and as private clients.
While coaches for young children may raise eyebrows, Natalie didn’t blink when Bernadette got in touch. In fact, demand for this age group is booming — around 75 per cent of her private client base is now aged four to six, and that figour ure has rocketed 30 per cent in the past eight months alone.
Bernadette isn’t surprised at the numbers. She looks around and sees a generation of parents struggling with mental illness; parents who want to break that cycle. “We want children to feel confident and empowered to feel the whole spectrum of emotions. To know that all emotions are okay, and to know how to manage them so they don’t become problems in later life.”
Parents feel under such pressure themselves, she believes, that they need the perspective and attention only an outside expert can bring. “With work, house admin, afterschool activities and homework we can’t be expected to always say the right thing, or to schedule an hour of dedicated emotional coaching when it’s needed. It just isn’t viable. That’s where coaches like Natalie come in.”
Her approach, of course, exemplifies a broader fundamental shift in how parents tackle their children’s problems, full-stop. Having worked with hundreds of families, Natalie believes that the days of ‘just get over it’ parenting are, well, over.
Many parents will pay for professional help in whichever area they perceive their children to be struggling, whether that’s maths or music. Throw in the mainstreaming of life coaching (an industry now worth £1.5billion worldwide) and perhaps little wonder many are more open to the idea of hiring one to temper tantrums.
There’s a steady drumbeat of anxiety here, too. Annette Du Bois is a Confidence and Mental Health Coach (champs-academy.co.uk) who has also seen a huge increase in demand from parents of four- to sixyear-olds in recent years.
They come to her with issues ranging from shyness and friendship problems to pressure of exams and homework, and what she calls “the sheer psychological overwhelm on young shoulders”. It all adds up to create the pressure cooker of modern life that’s a key driver in the child-coaching world.
“Collectively, fear, negativity and anxiety have risen over recent years. There’s a lot more pressure on parents to get it right but at the same time their children are growing up in a world so different to what they themselves have experienced,” she says. “It’s unchartered waters and parents need the reassurance that their child is equipped for the future.”
One of the biggest revelations in working with young children, she says, is the perceived pressure of not being allowed to make a mistake. Something she believes many pick up from Mum and Dad. “Parents are also living in this paradox of what I call ‘perfection perception’; feeling they need to have the perfect kids, who look perfect, perform perfectly and never get anything wrong.”
But parents feel they lack both the knowledge to help their child achieve such great expectations, and the wherewithal to cope when they inevitably fall short. Advice from their own parents no longer feels relevant and they can see that reassuring children by saying “don’t worry about it” only cuts so far. So they turn to her for practical, useful advice.
What exactly does coaching a fouror five-year-old involve? For Natalie it begins with detailed conversations with the parents, then time spent getting to know the child at their home. Over the three sessions (one every two weeks, costing from £380 for the package) playing games are vital so the child feels at ease, before she moves onto key activities.
“I might teach them to use ‘magic breathing’, a slow deep breath that brings children back into the moment. Each child gets a small soft toy called a ‘breathing buddy’ that they can rest on their stomachs, enabling them to see them rise and fall. Or we’ll work on understanding how their brain works when feeling big emotions (such as anger or worry) through puppets and role play. All activities are tailored and easy for young children to understand, allowing them to complete and remember them. After each session I make sure I meet with the parents to discuss the tools shared, so they are able to continue supporting their children between the sessions.”
Bernadette says the results for Callum, now five, were immediate. “The day after his first session we went to our local library with a small soft toy Natalie had given him to act as his breathing buddy. He’d been carrying it everywhere but to our horror we left it behind. I expected the meltdown of all meltdowns. But he simply turned to me and said, ‘It’s okay Mummy, it was a mistake’. I was amazed at his emotional maturity.”
Now he’s happier and more confident in managing his emotions, the positive impact has spread to the entire family. “There are definitely times when we still lose it and shout,” says Bernadette, “but there have also been so many times when we’ve all used the skills Natalie taught us. A moment where we’ve connected with why Callum’s upset, and diffused the situation instead of simply telling him off.
“My fear in hiring a coach was that we might be judged for being pushy, that we could be seen to be doing this to somehow mould him into an academic or a sporty person. But we just want to support his growth and mindset. For him not be another boy in society who feels he is not allowed to experience all his emotions.”
Whether this new life coaching trend tells us more about children’s anxieties, or their parents, remains to be seen.
We just want to support his growth and mindset. For him not be another boy in society who feels he is not allowed to experience all his emotions.” Bernadette Dancy, on why she hired a life coach for her son, despite fearing she might be judged for being pushy
More parents are getting life coaches for their stressed out children.