Kids given life coaches

Busy par­ents hire pro­fes­sion­als to guide their young chil­dren

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By KATE GRA­HAM

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

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

More par­ents are get­ting life coaches for their stressed out chil­dren.

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