Interview: Naomi Richards
Kids with problems? Meet the coach
Naomi Richards: "I'm living my work. I practise everything in the book"
Amother bringing up two primary school-aged children will have plenty of problems to solve. How are the kids getting on at school? Are they making friends? Do they have issues with anger or frustration? Do they lack self-confidence?
Naomi Richards is not only getting to grips with the development of her own two boys, aged four and eight, but she is simultaneously solving everybody else's problems as well. Richards is a life coach for children. She does not know of anyone else doing this job, but it seems like such a useful service, you begin to wonder whether this is a something we should be provided with on the NHS.
Of course there are plenty of people offering therapy and counselling to children who need it. However Richards - who has just published a book called The Parent's Toolkit for those who need guidance with their children's problems - focuses on the here and now. She explains: "I meet the child at my home - on average there will be three sessions. I need to know what the problem is, what they would like to happen and how they can get from A to B. Then we start to look for steps and that is where all the creative thinking comes in."
Richards gives the example of a child for whom shyness might be causing distress and limiting social possibilities. She has a checklist of questions and a variety of techniques to use. "I would want to find out what it was about meeting new people the child was scared about. Is it about the fear of saying something embarrassing? Is it that they don't know what to say? Is it that they don't know how they will be received? I'll try to take them back to when they first went to school and made new friends. How did they do it what questions did they ask?"
Richards will commonly use role-play and also come up with a number of different options for solving the problem - encouraging the child to mark them out of 10 for potential effectiveness. "The sessions tend to be lively and animated. I'm constantly trying to get the child to think. I also try to bring fun into it despite the fact that we are dealing with serious issues."
It was only when she settled down and started to have a family that Nottingham-born Richards began to think about children's life coaching. She explains that when she considered options for a new career (she had previously worked as a freelance marketeer) the three words that kept coming to her were "creative, problem-solving and children".
"I started researching the subject and realised there was no one out there doing life coaching for children. I started training - doing as many parenting classes as I could - and set the business up when my first son was small."
Richards lives in the middle of a Jewish community in north London and she estimates that around 80 percent of the children she sees are Jewish. But the issues they present with are, she says, identical to those of other children. "All the issues that I write about in the books apply to all children. It's not like I have lots of Jewish children who feel pressured about exams or getting into schools. The stereotypes are not true."
Some issues are harder than others. And by far the trickiest for her to deal with are the problems arising from parents' separation. The chapter dealing with this threatened to be so long that it would have overtaken the book, so judicious editing was required. She explains: "Emotionally, the hardest thing for me is when I see kids whose parents have separated. It's particularly difficult, especially when you're working with young kids who are scared of communicating what they need and what they want.
"The trouble is that there are so many different matters that arise from a separation or divorce. Children ask many questions when they are sitting in front of me. One of the most common is 'Is it my fault'? There are plenty of others too. For example, they might ask why daddy lives in a one-bedroom flat while mummy has a big house? They might be worried about what is going to happen to them? There could be issues around step families. Things depend a great amount on the age of the child and how the families have split. Situations will all be subtly different and dealing with them is a minefield. In these instances I have to do a lot of talking to explain to the children how things work."
Richards finds that she has a difficult juggling act to perform in weaving her work life in with her childcare commitments, but feels that her life coaching has a double function - enabling her to pursue a fulfilling career while also giving her priceless time with her two boys. She says: "I'm kind of living my work. I practise everything in my book. We have open communication and problem-solving and we do a lot of talking I try to keep the boys in touch with their feelings and thoughts. Best of all I get to pick them up every afternoon from school and look after them until their bedtime."
So what general advice does she have for parents with children of this age? The most important thing you can give your children, she says, is time. "You need to give your child attention every day. You need to get them to open up about things, so you can understand what is behind their behaviour. You can really only achieve that by sitting, listening and talking. Kids love spending time with their parents, whether it's at bedtime reading a story or just watching a film together on TV."
She adds: "Some parents don't know how to start a dialogue with their children. We just don't know what to say to our kids or how to say it. So if this book helps in this one way it will have contributed something important."
"The Parents Toolkit" is published by Vermilion at £12.99