A guide in the field of dreams
Christine Fieldhouse on the growing influence of life coaches for children
We know someone who already has next year sorted. He has a life coach he meets once a fortnight to chat about his New Year resolutions and dreams for the future. He wants to be a scientist. He also wants to be a hurdler for Britain in the Olympics. It’s all very ambitious and he works hard towards his goals. The problem is that he is only eight years old.
I’ve nothing against life coaches for adults, but for children? Where might it end? You want your daughter in bed by 7.30pm, but she says 8pm. Do you call in a mediator? Could time-management experts put their playdates in order? Could a spot of relationship counselling sort out playground squabbles?
I thought childhood was all about having fun and fantasies, wanting to be a computer whizz one day and a superhero the next. But life coach Annie Ashdown believes children can still have their fantasies while they’re being helped along by a coach. In fact, she goes so far as to call for life coaches in schools.
“Imagine how great it would be for children if they had someone coming into the classroom, listening to their views and hopes, and saying really positive things to them,” says Ashdown, whose youngest client is 14. “If our children were told they could achieve anything they want in life, that they’re amazing just as they are and to focus on their strengths, they would go a long, long way.”
Many people believe, of course, that giving positive feedback is what parents should be doing. Are life coaches, then, just substitutes for bad, lazy or busy parents?
“Every good parent could do the job of a coach, but sometimes an objective detached view is needed,” says Ashdown. “Parents these days are so busy. Some may not be able to pass these things on to their children because they weren’t taught them in the first place.”
But don’t children change their goals as often as their T-shirts? Children who want to work as brickies on Bob the Builder’s site at three, and to drive Thomas the Tank Engine at five, become aspiring astronauts or ballerinas at seven. If the coaching works, we could end up with a generation of ballerinas and astronauts, with no one to teach in our schools, look after us in hospitals, or clean our streets.
“Children’s hopes, dreams and goals change throughout childhood,” says child psychologist Dr Natalie Flatter, “but working towards something can’t do any harm. If children want to be astronauts, they could work hard at school and get the qualifications they need. If they then decide against being astronauts, at least they have a set of good qualifications to enable them to do something else.
“Any qualified professional life coach working with children will have an understanding of the child developing. Coaching could be extremely useful for teenagers or young adults who are trying to set their goals and understand their identities, relationships and careers.”
Until coaching becomes available in schools, surely the children who get coached privately are the ones with forward-thinking parents prepared to ferry their children to and from appointments, and pay for them? Wouldn’t the children whose parents have no interest in them be better candidates for some coaching?
“Some children don’t have the luxury of having supportive parents,” says Flatter. “Many are too busy to take a lot of interest in their children’s lives. In those cases, if a child had an issue that a teacher or parent thought they needed support with, and the child consented to life coaching, I believe the extra support would be helpful.”
Coach Jayne Goldstone, whose youngest client is eight, works with schools to build children’s confidence and self-esteem. She quotes the example of an 11-year-old girl who loved running but felt she could never beat the two best runners in her school.
“I suggested that she change her focus and didn’t concern herself with the other girls and their abilities,” says Goldstone. “Instead, she was to focus on giving her 100 per cent best. I encouraged her to see herself crossing the finishing line, knowing she couldn’t have done better. She went on to win a gold for the 200m and a bronze for 400m, not only because she was a great runner, but also because of her change in attitude.”
So there we have it. I’ve just checked and today our seven-yearold, Jack, wants to be a zookeeper when he grows up. He has decided we can start by getting a dog, then move on to more dangerous animals, an idea that doesn’t exactly fill me with joy. I’m not sure what I’ll do with my menagerie when he wants to be a truck driver next week. Maybe I’ll see a life coach.
For further information, see www. annieashdown.com and www.jaynegoldstone. com, or call Dr Natalie Flatter on 07756 940923.
Pathfinder (above right and below): life coach Annie Ashdown, who says: ‘Sometimes an objective view is needed’