A guide in the field of dreams

Chris­tine Field­house on the grow­ing in­flu­ence of life coaches for chil­dren

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Living -

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’

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