How To Teach Children Responsibility Through The Medium Of Tidying Up

How To Teach Children Responsibility Through The Medium Of Tidying Up

Hello again in this week’s article about good parenting skills we are going to tackle the unthinkable: Teaching children responsibility through tidying up.

After 10 years working as a life coach for kids and parent coaching expert, and 14 years since my first daughter was born, I have noticed something obvious. There are a handful of crunch points in our daily routine with our children that trigger us. Simple things that we do every day and yet, we manage to get them wrong pretty much every time. Ok, maybe not every time. However, getting it right is the exception rather than the norm.

I am talking about morning school run, eating habits, homework, bedtime and the topic for this article: tidying up.

I am aware the standards change from home to home. However, in my peculiar case, it happens that my wife is tremendously tidy. She is a Tetris master of the universe in placing things in the kitchen cupboard. Her drawers seem to be organized with a ruler, and her jumper folding skills could pass an SAS Sargent inspection with flying colours.

helping kids tidy up

I am not so organized, but I do like a clean room, bath towels hanging up rather than on the floor, and shoes, if not in the shoe cupboard, at least paired up nicely rather than all in pile at the entrance of the house (I just hope my mum is not reading this because she will be laughing out loud as this has been a late development for me).

While the children are young, understandably, we do most the tidying up for them. However, as they start becoming more independent and have a lot more stuff, things start getting out of control. This is exacerbated if you have several kids. In my case, I have two daughters, and I have all the respect for those that have more. Even with two daughters and the advantage of being a life coach for kids, I sometimes think I need to attend parenting classes too. Hats off to you guys, you deserve a statue in Trafalgar Square.

Teaching children responsibility prevents arguments and strengthens family bonds.  

For the last 14 years, I have been acutely aware of the home routines around tidying up. You may also find this article on tidying up interesting. I also grow very discontent with the arguments that this can trigger (“how many times I told you …..”), the last-minute rush (“have you seen my trainers, I left them here, and I can’t find them” “where is my maths book. I left it on my desk”) or those calls from school in the middle of the morning, most likely when you are in a meeting or about to get on the bus/underground/car, saying how they forgot their sports kit or homework and if I can bring them to school. I won’t stop emphasizing that coaching kids is a tough job. Also, being a life coach for kids expert doesn’t make it easier for me.

teaching kids responcibility

As you can tell, the whole point of this article is much broader than tidying up. It is about teaching children responsibility, to own their actions and be conscious that failing to do them has some consequences. Let’s assume we are having parenting classes. I will be using tidying up to illustrate all those points.

In my many conversations with parents during parent coaching sessions we often talk about their routines. When casually talking about their home routine, I notice a pattern. The parents take on all those responsibilities from early on and through the years, take on more and more stuff, while the children take on less and less. Most parents think “the little ones already have homework and school to deal with” or “it is faster if I do it” or “they don’t know how to do it”. There are a million more reasons I get in parenting classes which all end in parents doing everything. Consequently, the little ones binge on their favourite tv program comfortably laying on the sofa and asking us not to make too much noise because they can’t hear.

However, as the kids get into more stuff (football on Tuesdays, chess or Wednesday, play day on Thursday, karate on Fridays and swimming on Saturdays) this becomes unbearable for the parents. If you multiply these tasks by the number of kids you have, I can tell you it is going to burn you very quickly. You will explode. It is not a question or “if” but “when”.

Start teaching children responsibility early.

The main problem with coaching kids is that we often begin late. By the time we want to change it, it is now way out of control, or mum/dad can’t do it anymore, it is almost too late. We have taken on responsibilities for so long that the concept of owning those back is totally alien to the children.

During these series of articles, I will be writing about responsibilities, how to help them become independent, good home routines, etc. There are loads of great information out there. I particularly like searching online for “age relevant tasks for children”. I admit some of them seem a bit ambitious, but overall there is a lot of great advice which I always share on this blog or during parent coaching sessions.

teaching kids responcibility

You can also read the “good homework routine” “or the school run” article to get further ideas from my site.

Since the title of this article is about teaching children responsibility through tidying up. Let’s get into it

Firstly, as a life coach for kids, I want to mention that what you are about to read is not my invention. In fact, I struggled with the issue of tidying up for years. However, with time, there was learning in every place and in every person.

In a casual parent coaching conversation with my friend Beatriz Marquez, the topic came up. I almost dropped my coffee when she said, “I sorted it out ages ago, but not only that, my 21 years step-son just moved with us, and he has got it sorted in three weeks. His room is immaculate”.

The kids coaching strategy she developed was so simple and powerful that I almost felt silly to not have thought of it.

Before you continue reading, here is the disclaimer: this technique of coaching kids is not for those light-hearted parents. This technique is simple, yet requires you to take necessary action and stick to it. You won’t get the guts for this technique from parenting classes. The approach is a one-hit home run. Do it well the first time and reap the benefits for life. Do it halfway, and you’ll blow it. It will not work, and you will struggle to implement it later.

I have to admit that we toyed with the idea for a few weeks. We saw the value and potential of it but were not brave enough to do it. Yet, when we did it, it transformed the routine.

Ok, enough rambling.

Here goes the strategy: “whatever is on the floor is rubbish.”

This is your mantra, your truth, your Ten Commandments all in one.

And here is the in-depth explanation.

When is it appropriate to start coaching kids do this? I think at a very young age. Your child as young as three can help out in tidying up. Therefore, our role as parents is to help them learn (honey, can you put your toy in the box?”). This will also give them a sense of realization and will feel connected to you as you are doing something together and, most likely, he/she will get nice praise from you. In this case, I suggest establishing the rule around the 8 or 9 years mark but, as my friend Beatriz did, you can start at any age.

What do you need to do to teach children responsibility?

First, have a grown-up conversation with them. As a professional life coach for kids, I don’t fail to mention to parents in parenting classes that communication is everything. Choose a time in which everyone is calm for the conversation to happen. Ensure all the kids are there. Simply tell them briefly (please don’t talk too much, they will switch off) that keeping their things and rooms tidy is their responsibility. The overall cleanliness of the house is your responsibility. Here is my speech:

“As you know, we tend to get into silly arguments because things are on the floor or your room is a mess or your cupboards are impossible to open. You are old enough now to look after your own things. Also, I am confused and tired. I don’t have time to tidy up everybody’s stuff. So, from now on, there is a simple rule that applies to everybody: if I see one thing on the floor, I will assume it is rubbish, and I will throw it away. This applies especially to your room, but also to the things around the house”

They will probably be amused and confused about this approach. You might want to do a walk around the house and point at all the things that are out of place and can go to the rubbish bin.

This part is setting up the agreement. It is not a discussion, it is not flexible, it’s what it is and what it will be from now on. Take time to explain it, but ensure there is no concession. Open their cupboards and, if things are piled up, explain that you will put them on the floor and if they are not hung or folded when you return, you’ll assume it is rubbish. Therefore, it can be thrown away.

A critical part of this kids coaching approach is to ensure you separate responsibilities. It is their responsibility to tidy up. Not yours. If they leave something on the floor, they are making a choice, therefore, own the responsibility of that choice. You’ll understand in a couple of paragraphs why this is so important.

What can you expect from them? In all honesty, very little. They will be amused, but most likely they won’t believe you.

Now that the rule has been established, we go into action. In our case, we reminded them a few days of the rule with some but very little success. Eventually, we said: from tomorrow morning the rule start. If you are struggling with taking decisions, I do parent coaching too. So, yeah, you are welcome to join my parenting classes.

The next day, we did the morning routine as usual. We didn’t make any comment about the tidying up, and they didn’t mention it.

When we were home alone, we went to their room and took everything that was on the floor. All went to a black bag which we left by the door.

According to my friend Beatriz, not throwing it away was a mistake. I agree with her, but I guess she is more strong-willed than me. However, we did manage to correct it.

When the girls came from school, they ignored the bag (to be fair, they didn’t know what was in there). Only when they went to bed and missed their toy, did the conversation start:

Daughter N2: “Mum/dad, I can’t find Robin. Have you seen it?”

Daughter N1: “I can’t find Thomas either. I am sure I left it here this morning.”

Me (with my heart pumping): hmmmm don’t know. Was it on the floor?

Daughters gave me a mixed look of confusion, panic, and begging. “No, I don’t think it was on the floor.”

Me: well, if it wasn’t on the floor, it will be there. If it was on the floor, I assume it is rubbish.

Daughters: No!!! You haven’t thrown it away!! (Now the confusion and begging part left their looks, and I could tell it was more panic).

Important note: the next line is probably the most critical part of it all. I copied literally from my friend, and I can swear by it.

Me (calm and casual): no, I didn’t throw it away. You did throw it away as you chose to leave it on the floor. It is your responsibility, not mine. You know the rule, you made your choice.

At this point, I pointed I hadn’t had time to go to the dump, but that tomorrow I would take the black bag there to throw away.

Well, I have never seen them go downstairs so fast and agile. They suddenly became Olympic athletes jumping steps down.

They opened the bag, saw their “precious” possessions that had been ignored the whole afternoon and evening, and pulled most of them out, took them to their room and left them in a nice tidy way. Took their stuffed toys and, calming themselves down, went to bed.

We had a bit of a chat, and I reminded them about the rule.

The next day, during the morning routine, I did remind them of the rule, and the room was perfect. This continued, in a good pattern for a few days. However, as my friend Beatriz predicted, the standard slowly decreased.

One day, we repeated the exercise. I have to be honest and mention that I moved the stuffed toy to the top of their desk. Everything else was in a black bin bag, and I dumped it in the rubbish bin.

A small explanation: in Spain, the rubbish is thrown into skippers that are collected every day. Where we live in London, we have Wheelie bins that are collected every week.

A few days later, on Saturday, my daughter N2 was looking for her favourite jacket. She only needed a second after asking her mum (“mum, have you seen my leather jacket”) to go into a panic. However, the clever rat ran to the wheelie bin and found it. In any case, the effect was almost as good as expected.

Since then, their room tidiness has improved massively. I am not going to lie, it is not to the standards of my wife, but hers is a tough standard to have. However, they are more responsible and organized.

During this kids coaching technique, I am sure we will have a few runs to the bins every now and then and, eventually, they will lose something precious. Remember, it is their responsibility, not yours as a parent.

My youngest daughter has just read the article and made a valid point. They were seriously annoyed at us. Of course, they would be, but it passed, and they learned. As they take responsibility for their actions, so do we.

And that’s it. Simple, isn’t it?

As a life coach for kids, I will advise, if you have kids of very different ages, you will need to adapt it slightly making small concessions for the very young. However, if the kids are all over 6, I suggest the approach applies to everybody.

As I mentioned above, the core of this article is a lot bigger than tidying up. It is about coaching kids to learn responsibility, being independent and being considerate of their own things and the request of their parents. Failing that? You may want to look at our article on unruly teens

I hope you enjoyed it.
Empowering Teenagers Suffering Through Bullying — What Should You Do When Your Child Is Being Bullied?

Empowering Teenagers Suffering Through Bullying — What Should You Do When Your Child Is Being Bullied?

Young people are delicate. However, there are topics in my line of work as a life coach for kids that are more sensitive than others. Bullying is one of them. With study motivation or anxieties, most of the transformation is internal—in our head. However,  when we are working in cases of bullying, many young people and parents feel like it doesn’t matter what they decide in their head, those people will still be at the school gates saying things, or online spreading rumours. That is why I recommend empowering teenagers through parent coaching.

For this reason, I want to encourage you to read this article. Take it seriously like you would with parenting classes. However, also look online for practical help in your area. As always, I’ve put links to some beneficial resources such as Kidscape and Bullying UK at the bottom. It is not an easy topic and parents will need to prepare themselves as much as possible. This is why I had to provide more information below along with links to websites that I like and respect. When it comes to empowering teenagers through the difficulties of bullying, no amount of information is too much.

There are two main areas in which parents can be involved in empowering teenagers to deal with bullying

The first area I will suggest from my kids coaching experience is to ensure your children feel free to speak up. Unfortunately, many teenagers will do a fantastic job of hiding their situations and emotions. Sadly, a lot of parents will only realize when it’s too late. I will share some ideas later on.

The second area is to decide when to intervene and the appropriate intervention. Many times the person blocking your help might be your child as they don’t want to either attract more attention or send the message that he/she needs “mummy or daddy” to resolve the problems because he or she is not strong enough.

What are the signs that my child is being bullied?

Let’s start with what we need to look out for. Probably, no one has mentioned this in your parenting classes before. Again, what I am trying to do here is to provide enough information while keeping a deep topic simple.

Are they pulling away from things they used to like?
First thing:

Change of behaviour. Behavioural changes tend to happen over time. However, it is unlikely that you will notice any drastic changes. Remember, your son or daughter will become a great actor. It is only by comparing their behaviour over a few months that you will notice the difference. I always advise parents or guardians coaching kids to be very observant. Keep an eye for the sleep patterns; if they are uneasy when going to bed, experience shorter hours of sleep, maybe nightmares or uncomfortable sleep.

Check their enthusiasm about going to school; are they looking forward to seeing their friends or just going automatically with no sense of fun? What activities are they doing? Are they pulling away from things they used to like? Sometimes they will express their suppressed anger towards you or other family members. However, at other times they will let it eat them up. Consequently, they become more closed off, less talkative, less engagement in all their social life.

In parenting classes, I tell parents, “Once your child starts showing less enthusiasm to new ideas, there is a big problem”

The most important thing, I think, as a life coach for kids, is to look for patterns. Some of those changes might be perfectly normal (they don’t want to go to their dance club anymore because their friends are not going or it’s not fun). It is not about one big thing, but many small things.


What is happening in their friendships? Unfortunately, when a person is being bullied, some of the so-call friends will become distant as if they don’t want to be seen with them. Perhaps, they are afraid the bully will turn on them too. I hear this excuse a lot during kids coaching sessions. While this is annoying, it is essential to see it as a natural response for those kids to be safe. In our case, what we want to see is what’s going on and why those friends are not with him/her anymore. Also, what other friends they have. Who do they talk about? Who do they socialize with?

Unfortunately, Sometimes Good Parenting Means Making Difficult Choices

Helping kids, empowering teenagers.
Helping kids, empowering teenagers.

Now, I am aware what I am about to say will probably grant you the title of ‘most hated dad or mum of the year’. However, if you have a cause for concern, go and talk with their friends. Contact their parents and ask them for permission to talk with them. When talking with your child’s friend, mention you have noticed somethings and give some examples. Reassure them that you will keep it confidential and that they are helping, rather than telling tales.

From my experience of coaching kids, it is important to let you know what to expect. I doubt you will get a clear yes or no. However, you will get further insightful information about social dynamics around your child. Also, you are creating a line of communication. Ensure their parents know the situation as maybe your child’s friends would feel better talking to their own parents rather than to you about your son or daughter. Thus, the parents can always revert the message back to you.

During parent coaching classes, I tell them not to neglect the relationship existing among siblings.

Friends are just as important as siblings

They might be disclosing information to their sisters or brothers, and they feel they must keep secret from you. Therefore, ensure you talk with them without making them panic. Ask them about what might be happening. While they might not know anything, maybe through friends, they might catch some important information.

Obviously, the most important part is to ensure you and your teenager are having a conversation. You can’t imagine how many parents tell me in parenting classes, “I thought it was just a phase and let it pass” or “I wasn’t sure what to do and hope it would go away”. I have some videos and articles about how to communicate with our children, please watch or read them.

Understanding the Elephant in the room is the key to empowering your teenager.

The key point I am making here is the elephant in the room. Bring up the topic without panic, worry or pressure. You will likely need several conversations before your son or daughter decides to freely express themselves. The most important thing you can tell them is: “I’ve got your back. I am here for you. Whatever happens, we can work something out. I am here to help you.”

Ok, so now, you have an understanding. Something is going on, your teenager will probably ask you to stay away, and you might feel very tempted to do so (I have to believe in my child, I promised him I would not intervene, or I am not sure what to do). As a professional life coach for kids, I tell you this is a bad idea.

What things you can do now to empower your teenager to cope with bullying

Helping kids deal with bullying through empowering teenagers
Helping kids deal with bullying through empowering teenagers
1- Avoid normalisation of the issue

By not talking about it or taking action, we are allowing it to become normal. Therefore, talk to your kid on different terms. Use analogies and third person to make it less personal, such as; “If you knew who robbed  a bank and hurt people in the process wouldn’t you have the responsibility to tell the police?”  “What if somebody stole your car, wouldn’t you want to know who did it and get your car back?”  “If it was your friend who was going through it, and you could do something about it, would you just stop and look?” Or “if you see somebody robbing an old lady, maybe you would not face the thug, but you would most likely help the old lady and call an ambulance if needed.”

As with the points above, you might likely need many chats, and maybe you will need help from other relevant people to help the message go through. Coaching kids can be a tough job but persistence always wins.

2- Be honest in what is likely to happen

Your son or daughters’ worst nightmare is that everybody will find out (even if everybody probably already knows), that they will bring even more attention to themselves, that things will get even worse if they talk. These are all valid points and, most importantly, they are very emotional points. This means that our well thought through ideas will not make a difference as emotions will always be stronger than thoughts.

Another issue is that your child sees no solution for what’s happening. Let’s be honest, if they thought there was an answer, they probably would have done something. This creates further paralysis in them.

Share in your child’s emotion and they will easily open up to you

The process of empowering teenagers can take a double approach; honestly using rational thought and helping them see the options they have.

When coaching kids, I help them to deal with the myth that everybody will find out. Well, unless you are living on another planet, I would suggest most people already know this is happening. Even more, I’d be surprised if the bully isn’t telling as many people as they can already. As a life coach for kids, I help them to look the other way.

Therefore, there is no need trying to handle the fear of bringing more attention to yourself—you can hardly bring more. The bully is already focussed on you, and unless something changes, this person is only going to increase their actions. Don’t fool yourself, things only tend to get worse unless we do something about it.

Things will get worse. Yes, this might happen if we are not clever on how to do it or if we do it alone. However, if we bring the school and authorities along with ourselves, we will resolve it together.

It is critical that you not overpromise or lie. It is likely to be a difficult process. However, it is one that needs to happen for things to improve. It is also a process in which your teenager is not alone. There are lots of people who can help and who are willing to help.

3- Have a plan, including a safe area

At this point, you would have reported the situation to school. The Inspection and Education Act, 2006 means that every school will have an anti-bullying policy or behaviour policy that will set out its code of practice to dealing with bullying, find out what it is and work with the school to put a safety plan including a daily routine that needs to change. Another thing parenting classes do is to make parents aware of the rights that affect their children.

Here is when the adults might need to step up. We might have to drive them to school or pick them up if the issue is there. Also, we might need to demand a safeguarding teacher to check on him or her, involve playground supervisors. We might need to ask his or her friends to help him/her or spend more time with him/her. The more people involved, the safer they will feel, and the more open to express themselves they will become. During parent coaching sessions I always advise they never try to go about the problem alone.

The two key ideas here are:
1) we have a plan to make this work
2) you are not alone, and we all have our back.

4 – Finally, give them some tools to empower themselves

There is plenty of information about bullying and empowering teenagers online. However, the usual ones are: avoid engaging with them, walk away, manage your body language and always, always report any incidence.

I have worked with many parents through parent coaching routines, and when we talked about the situation, they broke down in tears. They felt they had let their kid down and had a great sense of guilt. I can totally understand it. For this reason, this process is as healing for teenagers as it is for the parents. By taking action, having a plan, we are taking ownership and responsibility. We might have to adapt the plan, have several conversations with parents, or the school. It’s OK. What is most important is the unshakable belief that we will go through this and succeed.

And this is it for me today. As you know, there are other articles on this blog and more to come to help you. Find time to browse through and feel free to contact me if you want me to address any specific topic PERSONALLY.

As always, If you like the article please share it with your friends. It feels fulfilling for me to share with your family and friends. Therefore, help spread the word and support other parents.


Kidscape – Help With Bullying

How To Coach Teenagers Through Attentive Listening And Building Trust

How To Coach Teenagers Through Attentive Listening And Building Trust

I often think about my work, trying to extract from every kid coaching session the exact formula of what is working with my young clients. In my work as a life coach for young people, I think that life coaching for children has taken me the most time to understand and develop. I took a few things for granted, and they always came to bite my back. Mindsets such as, “I am the adult”, “they need a good talk”, “they are being influenced by friends” or, my absolute worst: “I get them.”

Rubbish, all of them! After many years, I have found that the most important thing parenting classes must teach adults is listening to children. What they need is attentive listening, trust, as well as an authentic relationship.

It didn’t take me long to realize that my being the adult is actually part of the problem. They feel that most of the adults around their life are against them (teachers, police, trainers, or strict parents).

 Thus, they don’t need a good talk. In fact, what they need is somebody to listen to them. Yes, they are indeed being influenced by their friends, but that is a crucial part of social learning for them! Especially if they feel their parents (or adults) are not listening to them. 

This is not one of your parenting classes. As a professional life coach for kids, my focus is on child development, not their parents. But, parents can’t help their kids if they don’t develop themselves too. Do you get the twist? Don’t worry, I am rambling again.

So, obviously, I didn’t “get them” because I was being the adult and I wasn’t listening to them.

Does it sound obvious? Well, I can tell you that when you have a young person who refuses to go to school, suffering exam nerves, or self-harming in front of you, that’s when you will desperately search for the magic formula to solve it as soon as possible. Then, you suddenly realize there is no such thing as quick solutions. Using feedback to motivate children is important. However, it needs to go hand in hand with attentive listening.

attentive listening

Let me share this real-life coaching for children case example. I am going to call this girl Sonia, obviously not her real name. Sonia is a teenager who is doing well in school. In fact, she is doing very well academically. Her family is nurturing and caring. However, Sonia is showing signs of anxiety in teens. The first change that happened was her sleep. She struggles to fall asleep, resulting in her being tired and clingy the next day. The next was that she stopped sharing as much as she used to do. 

attentive listening

She talks to her parents and tells them that she is worried—thank goodness for that—but she can’t really identify why. Her parents try to understand, thinking that it was all about exam nerves, they take the approach of taking all focus away from exams. However, that doesn’t seem to work. Her sleep was still bad, and it’s now clearly affecting her and the family. Her behaviour was mostly good, but she was clearly tense and not being her normal charming self. As a life coach for kids and as a parent I would not wait for things to get so bad before trying to act. Brings us back to the point where parents should consider taking parenting classes.

As assessment week approaches her parents up their game, distracting her from exams with fun activities and revision or exam conversations are almost banned from the house to take all pressure away.

Nothing seems to change, Sonia’s parents were responding, but not attentively listening to Sonia.

When I met her professionally for a life coaching for children session, Sonia was quiet, answering as little as possible. Also, while she was polite the most common line she used was “I don’t know” and all possible variations of it (I am not sure, I think so, maybe, it could be) or simply nod.

So, how do I go about it? Recall I told you teenagers don’t want to be talked to but listened to? However, Sonia was not talking. How can I listen to her?

A key part of my work as a life coach for kids is to create moments of connection. Sometimes they give it to me, sometimes, many times, in fact, I must create them.

The first step I had to do was to build trust and mutual confidence. You probably thought that since I knew her, this was already there, right? Well, it wasn’t. When exploring difficult situations, the young person needs to feel trusted and this is a completely new game for the adult. We can’t take any previous relationship, even as a parent, for granted. When coaching kids, we must work on building a sacred space of mutual trust.

The way I do this is by mixing a combination of life coaching for children experience and showing examples of trust. Firstly, I shared with Sonia as much as I could from my life as a teenager, situations I have experienced professionally as a life coach for kids and so on. My aim was to go to her world, to fish around until I can find a line of connection. Humour and fun activities seemed to help distract her from the fact that we were having a coaching session.

I told her about my fears when I was her age. How I felt I wasn’t a good student. About my fears when my daughters were growing up—should I tell them I wasn’t a good student? Should I hide it? Fundamentally, I was sharing my fears. I was sharing myself with her.

attentive listening

As she felt more comfortable, I shared more of my professional, personal and family life. She started talking a bit more.

In case you are wondering, yes, it feels vulnerable. But how can you expect her to open up (a massive act of vulnerability) if I am not willing to demonstrate the same?

During our kid coaching talks, I ensured I set the fundamental mark of trust: respect. I mentioned how I wasn’t there to tell her what to do (how can I tell her if I barely know what’s happening in her life). Told her how I would respect every decision she made, even if it was not coming back to see me. I never challenged any question she had, any observation or idea. I took them all at face value.

Another important part of the kids coaching process was that I virtually ignored the reason for our sessions. Of course, it was parked in my mind, not forgotten, but I made a very precise attempt to avoid it until she brought it up.

Finally, I always ensure I bring humour into our conversations. The first thing we lose is our sense of humour. So, laughing becomes tremendously healing and a great relationship builder. What is important is that I was the butt of the joke. I related those experiences to myself and made a comedy of my experiences.

What Sonia was perceiving was a person who is honest with her and attentively listening. In case you are wondering, yes, it feels vulnerable. But how can you expect her to open up (a massive act of vulnerability) if I am not willing to demonstrate the same?

Why attentive listening is important for parenting and life coaching for children

Over the course of a few kids coaching sessions, Sonia started to feel more relaxed in our meetings, shared more about her school life, her concerns (remember, I didn’t bring up the topic, she did). During those chats, she displayed a pattern that we call, “them – us”. A lot of her talk was very generic about her classmates (them) and very specific about her two friends (us). This raised my curiosity, and I asked her more about her friends.

attentive listening

Here is the summary: Sonia knows that she does very well academically. Her two closest friends are also doing very well. She felt they had that in common while most of the other kids in her class were doing ok but less well than the three of them. What caught my attention was how, when talking about her two best friends, Sonia said: “they are very smart”. Simple yet powerful statement.

Why did this statement catch my attention? Any parent can overlook this. However, from my experiences as a life coach for kids, I could read between the lines. Well, she talked about them being smart. She didn’t talk about the three of them being smart.

Now, there are many possibilities but I like to think only two strong options.

  1. It could be out of modesty: I am smart but I am not going to say it.
  2. Comparison: They are smart but I have to work my backside to reach the same levels. Maybe I am not as smart.

I made the assumption that the second option could be the true one and asked her.

Me: What do you mean by “they” are smart?

Sonia: Well, they get very good grades. I do well as well but they are very smart

Me: And the rest of the class?

Sonia: They do ok… Well, a few of them don’t but most do ok

Me: But not as well as you three?

Sonia: No, we are normally the ones with the best scores

So here is my assumption: Sonia has created a strong bonding with those two girls based on their academic performance. She hasn’t expressed any other point of strong connection between them. I am sure there are other areas they all enjoy. However, what brings them together and differentiates them from the rest of their class is their scores.

One thing I find time and time again is that poorly based ideas take place in our brain and, despite everything telling us they are false, we repeat them to ourselves as a mantra until we believe them. The more we do it, the more we believe them.

Leveraging on my experience as a life coach for kids, I felt it was time to take my chances. I wanted her to check some of those beliefs she had expressed. Rather than “telling her, I opted for a tiny humorous but provocative approach.

Belief one: they are smart vs they are hard-working people just like me.

Me: But I guess they are naturally smart, they don’t work at all and get all those great results. I mean, I am sure they are heading to Nobel prize or something like that.

Sonia: Well, they are smart but we work together a lot and they do work hard. I sometimes work harder than them.

Belief two: Without the good results, they will realize I am not smart, they won’t be my friends

Me: And, of course, if you were not to get good results you will have no friends (in a joking tone)

Sonia: Yes, I guess they will still be my friends. We like the same music and the same movies. We do a lot of sleepovers together.

Belief three: I don’t have any other friends

Me: I can imagine how scary it might feel if you think you don’t know anybody else in your class

Sonia: Yes. It feels very lonely. 

Me: And all the other girls?

Sonia: They are nice. We sometimes play together or go to activities together.

From here, the conversation took on a much deeper level, helping Sonia express those beliefs she was holding, sometimes by herself, sometimes with some suggestion.

The moment Sonia expressed those beliefs (fears), she could easily see how they were not real, just like exam nerves. She had friends. Not only those two friends, but a lot of the other kids in the class were also nice to her and she knew them well. In fact, she was interacting with them a lot of times. 

When I saw her two weeks later she said: “I am sleeping much better now. I am a bit worried about the exams but not too much. I think I will do well.” She also related how she had been on an activity camp with some of her other friends and they had a lovely time together climbing, hiking, etc. In fact, she was the most talkative I ever saw her.

Now I want to summarise this case so you can take home a few ideas. Call it lessons from parenting classes and you won’t be wrong.

How do we help children with exam nerves, or, in fact, with any type of anxiety?

  • Don’t give them the talk. Listen to them
  • Acknowledge and respect their fears. They are true for them
  • Don’t rush. Allow time and space for them to talk when they are ready
  • Give them the chance to express their worries. When they do, don’t challenge/stigmatize/ignore them. Respect those emotions and give the young person enough support so they can eventually challenge those beliefs themselves
  • They will share with you as much as you are willing to share with them.

Suggested reading

Talking To Children About Recent Tragic Events

Talking To Children About Recent Tragic Events

After the tragic events on Friday in Paris, a number of children have experience anxiety and worries. As a life coach for kids, I feel the need to teach parents techniques of talking to children. The article below is a compilation of advice based on research and my professional experience from life coaching for children.

Keep the main goal in mind

When talking to children, the objective is to help your child deal with their emotions constructively, help the child overcome anxieties or tension from the bad news, and allow them to continue enjoying their day to day (and night—as that is when most worries will surface) as much as possible.

Is talking to children about the tragedy relevant?

Not every kid will react the same to these events. Some children might be significantly affected while the kid seating next to him might cope with the information just fine. I see this regularly during kids coaching sessions. Be observant of any changes of conversation or behaviours. Over-reactions or tears appearing easily. Be aware that this doesn’t depend so much on the age of the child. From 4 years on they might be taking in information. However, I personally think the group most likely to be affected is 8-15 years old.

Moderate exposure

The media is full of coverage about the terrorist attacks. I never advocate to hide things from children. However, a measured approach is very sensible. The pictures, comments, videos etc can be very overpowering for an adult let alone for a child. As a professional life coach for kids, I want you to be aware of what movies or TV programmes they watch, what games they play (specially video games).

Be ready to talk about it

If your children haven’t learnt about the events, they most likely will learn from school friends or other sources. If this is a concern for him/her ensure you are ready to talk. By talking to children about it on your own time you are giving yourself the best chance to lead and manage the conversation constructively. The last thing we want is to be asked this important questions unprepared. Parent coaching on this topic mostly dwell on how to get them ready to talk.

Give yourself time to talk

When talking to children about the events, ensure you have plenty of time to do so. Don’t rush it or you will miss their emotions and it might only exacerbate the worries. Although I am a professional life coach for kids and a dad, I still take my time.

Be aware of your emotions

We take most of the information from the body language and tone of voice. Words account for around 5-10% of the message. Therefore, be aware of your body language, your tone and your general state of calmness when talking to children. The child, most likely, will mirror your state, whatever it is. However, it is important to show your emotions as well, this will give them permission to show theirs. When in a life coaching for children session, I try to make myself vulnerable. This makes the children to show their fears and vulnerability too.

Be open and honest but choose your words carefully

Explain to them in very simple language what happened. The more detail we provide the stronger the image will be in their heads, thus, making the emotions stronger. I personally favour describing the facts in a reasonably generic and impersonal/detached way. This will help the children put some emotional distance with the events. I also conduct parent coaching classes. In my parenting classes, I teach parents how to handle these situations.

Be Patient, it might take time to assimilate it

It’s possible the children may become tearful. If they do, it is a good sign that they are letting their emotions out. It is most likely that the tears are caused by fear than the events themselves. Help them voice them out. Also, be aware that they are most likely to surface at night. If this happens, just be patient. They are not doing in it on purpose, they are not enjoying it. As a life coach for kids expert, I assure you that if they knew how to control their emotions they would. Most times, tearing is from feeling of helplessness.

Help them move on

Kids coaching is very important for them. Let them know that people are looking after them. The police, the government, they are all working to avoid this from happening. Ensure they understand how rare these events are.

Adapt their environment over the next few days

Reduce or eliminate exposure to news in a way you can better control the message. Try to watch uplifting movies and play constructive games. Ensure a positive routine at home especially before bed time. Read with them and give time to talk about some happy memories or future plans.

Finally, always use your commons sense. You are the person who best know your child. Therefore, use your commons sense to adapt these or other advice you receive.

Please contact me if you need any advice on this topic. I am happy to help in any way I can.

Further reading. These are some articles that I have come across which make total sense to me. I highly recommend you read them if this topic affects you or your children:

Giving Praise To Children

Giving Praise To Children

I admit it, my desk and fridge at some point, were filled with my daughters’ drawings that I had no idea what they were. For some of them, I felt my daughters hadn’t made enough effort. The same happened with a number of “achievements”. Subsequently, I began to think of the best approach towards giving praise to children.  As a professional life coach for kids, I want to encourage them, not pushing or openly lying to them.

Eventually something clicked and I learnt the basics for giving praise to children as well as positive reinforcement. I have used them a lot with my daughters and during my kids coaching sessions.

Let’s start from the beginning. Praise and positive reinforcement, when done incorrectly or overused, can result to confusion or a false sense of achievement. Most children know when their work is worth it. Over praising (ie. praising anything they do) can lead the children into either not believing what we are saying or into a comfort zone from which the children will not want to leave. This can reduce their confidence to attempt new things in the fear that they might not receive the praise.

Praise and positive reinforcement when done correctly and at the right time, can have a tremendous effect in creating confident and innovative kids.

How can you find the balance?

There are two parts. First part is to focus on the effort made, second part is how to give them feedback. In my parenting classes, I help parents to know the importance of these two parts.

When giving praise to children, focus on the effort and the work completed rather than the outcome. The picture might be nice (or not) but spending 30 minutes concentrating and working on something is priceless learning.

The outcome, (the drawing, the music played on the piano, etc.) is almost secondary. It is a result of the skills applied (creativeness, focus, concentration, persistence, desire, etc). During my kids coaching sessions, I pay more attention to efforts.

The second part is about giving them feedback on the specific work. I recommend the “3 diamond and 1 star” approach.

After praising the effort and skills applied (whichever it was), ask your child to think of 3 things he/she has done that deserves a Diamond and what 1 thing deserves a Star. Diamonds are the things they are most proud of in their work. The star is for something they like but know they could do better. Finally ask them, “how will you make your Star a Diamond next time?”.

Three important tips; firstly, remember the ratio 3:1 to generate motivation. Secondly, ensure they always talk about their Diamonds first. Finally, let them come up with the solutions but feel free to suggest others that complement what they say whilst respecting their ideas. As a life coach for kids, I know this is not as easy as it sounds. However, I know it is not impossible.

Final tip, remind and tell them their resolutions next time before they go onto doing something new.

I was doing some research recently and found this wonderful resource. Check it out HERE.

Child Confidence Is Like Playing Hide And Seek

Child Confidence Is Like Playing Hide And Seek

As a professional life coach for kids, one of the most common statements I hear from children is “I am not very confident”. I am never sure if they are the ones that come up with that statement, or they have heard the adults around them saying it. However, I must tell you that child confidence is a big deal. Thus, hiding between those lines I hear most times during kids coaching session is a very limiting belief (lack of confidence) at a very profound level (identity: I am not).

The first thing I do when I hear this statement is saying “yes, you are”. This is normally followed by a classic comedy moment of “no, I am not”, “yes, you are”… which is very entertaining for the child and myself.

The priority for me it is to help the child understand that it is not a case of being or not being confident. We are confident; it is a case of using it. Obviously, breaking down such a limiting and embedding belief is not easy. So, as a professional life coach for kids, I have to resort to a language they understand.

Child confidence is like playing hide and seek. Children can learn confidence and resilience.
This is how I explain it to them:

Me: confidence is like playing hide and seek. I imagine that you are in the playground and you are playing hide and seek with your friends. It is your turn to look out for them but you only look at one side of the playground and completely ignore the other, what will it happen?

Child: I will only find a few of my friends

Me: that’s correct, and what do you have to do to find the others?

Child: look on the other side of the playground

Me: well, with confidence it is exactly the same. It is already there, within yourself, but you haven’t looked at it enough yet. You are probably confident playing football, or signing with your sister in your room, or playing with your friends

Child: yes, I feel good when I play with my brother/sister

Me: so, you are confident. Now we only have to work out how to do more of it. How to look at that side of the playground more often.

As a professional life coach for kids, I figured this simple conversation can change the child’s belief in himself. If he feels confidence once, he can feel it twice, three times, ten times…. a million times. It all starts with that first belief.