Parents who hire life coaches for their children of seven
Kate Harrison's seven-year-old daughter used to sob herself to sleep every night for three monthsShe now insists that hiring a life coach was one of the best decisions she's ever made
02:17 GMT, 30 October 2012
Life Coaching-Kate Harrison and 9 year old daughter Bella from Ashwell, Hertfordshire
When Kate Harrison’s seven-year-old daughter sobbed herself to sleep every night for three months, it was clear something had to change.
Ever since she’d started school, Bella had struggled with playground politics. Issues that another child might shrug off, such as a bit of teasing or being excluded from a game, hit the sensitive little girl very hard. Her mother tried every strategy to boost Bella’s confidence, but the situation just got worse.
‘We got to the point where every night after school she was distraught. Eventually, I was crying myself to sleep at night, too,’ says Kate, 41.
Desperate for a solution, Kate, scanned online parenting forums for advice. It was there she learned about life coaches for children.
Life coaches used to be viewed as rather ‘new age’ — counsellors hired by self-indulgent adults who felt they’d lost their way in their personal lives or careers and needed to ‘empower’ themselves.
But life coaching for children has become increasingly popular, with coaches tackling issues from bullying and low self-confidence to handling exam pressure and family difficulties.
Some will view this growing band as doing little more than pandering to the whims of neurotic parents, or those mums and dads who have big incomes but are time-poor, and so have had to outsource their own nurturing role.
At 60 to 250 per session, life coaching for children doesn’t come cheap. But Kate, who has a part-time personnel job, says she doesn’t know how her family would have coped without Naomi Richards — who claims to be the only life coach in Britain to work with children as young as six.
Kate insists that hiring a life coach was the best decision she could have made, and that the change in her daughter, now eight, has been dramatic.
‘Life coaching was totally new to me but we’d got to the point where we needed outside help,’ says Kate, from Hertfordshire.
‘Bella would come home from school and worry incessantly over what had happened in the playground. The issues she faced weren’t anything you don’t find in playgrounds across the country, but in her mind they were insurmountable.'
Kate is married to Paul, a senior product manager for a mobile phone company, and the couple also have a four-year-old son, Oliver.
‘Bella’s unhappiness began to dominate family life,’ Kate adds. ‘When, one night, she told me she wanted to “dead myself” — words can’t describe how distressing that was.’
In the end, two 45-minute sessions with Naomi were all Bella needed.
‘Together they worked out a plan of different ways to handle situations that upset Bella,’ explains Kate.
‘She could try out the strategies — whether it was to play elsewhere, tell a teacher or say she didn’t like being called a “loser” — and see what worked.
‘It’s not that the situations have gone away, but now she feels she has the tools to deal with them.
Almost a year later, Bella is a different child, more confident, and much less anxious. ‘It’s like a weight has been taken off her shoulders, and mine too,’ says Kate.
Kate Harrison says that just a year on her daughter Bella is a different child
Kate believes one reason a life coach worked for Bella is that, as her mother, she had become part of the problem.
She says: ‘I felt that because I had become so emotional about the situation, I was probably making things worse.’
Naomi Richards, 39, who has been life-coaching children for eight years, believes modern life has contributed to the growing popularity of counsellors like her. Naomi, author of parenting guide The Parent’s Toolkit, says that children are often less co-operative as they are so absorbed in online activities.
Life coach Annie Ashworth, who counsels both adults and children over 12, agrees the rise in demand for life coaching for children has been driven by a changing social picture. In her view, it’s the increasing number of families where mothers work, and so have less time for their children, and the extra pressures that girls are struggling with.
‘I’ve noticed increasing issues with girls and body image,’ she says. ‘There’s so much peer pressure as well the pressure they put themselves under from seeing celebrities.’
But Annie also believes family breakdown is another factor. She often coaches children who say they cannot talk to either parent without feeling as though they are taking sides.
Full-time mother Sarah Penney hopes the coaching her daughter Lauren received this summer will help the ten-year-old cope with family dynamics she sometimes finds difficult. Sarah is divorced from Lauren’s father and Lauren now has a stepfather and two half-brothers.
Sarah, 41, from Twickenham, took Lauren to Surrey-based coach Lisa Parkes after they began arguing over work she had to do for her 11-plus exam.
‘Lauren was starting to feel very negative about passing the exam, even though she is very capable,’ she says.
Lauren also lost her temper on a regular basis, and home was becoming a battleground.
‘Lisa made Lauren feel special, which gave her a confidence boost,’ Sarah says. ‘She had three hour-long sessions, which included ways to handle anger. She’s more positive now and more able to control her temper.’
Tamsin Kirtley, 38, agrees that having an outsider involved in resolving a child’s problems can work wonders. She took her son, Josh, 16, to Lisa Parkes last February when she began to fear he might not even turn up for his GCSEs.
Diagnosed with borderline ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome as a young boy, Josh’s behaviour improved as he matured, but his confidence remained low.
Tamsin, a book-keeper from Bagshot, Surrey, says her son had about ten hour-long sessions over five months.
‘Lisa listened to what he had to say and tailor-made their sessions to suit his needs, she says. ‘She gave him simple and effective tools to help build up his self-esteem and make him feel more confident about his exams, to focus on what he could do rather what he couldn’t.
‘As a result, he did better than I’d ever imagined. He got 5Bs and 4Cs and recently started sixth form.’
However, Sarah Penney stresses that life coaching ‘is not a magic wand’. While it can help children cope with life better, the parental nurturing role is far from redundant yet.