Business coaches offer skills to struggling parents

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

Image caption,
Jess says being a parent is the most important job in the world

High-powered businessmen and struggling parents from deprived areas may not have much in common at first glance.

But parents at primary schools in run-down areas are being offered the same sort of life coaching that performance management experts sell to businessmen wanting to hone their interpersonal skills.

Performance coaches at Mind Gym have trained staff in some of the world's most successful organisations, including Sainsbury's, BT and Deutsche Bank.

But what does the world of business have to offer struggling parents?

Founder of the programme Octavius Black says: "Essentially we are all very much the same whether we are high-powered workers in the city or parents at home with our children.

"They are much more similar to each other than either would ever imagine."

'Common ground'

He explains that both parents and workers will be affected by what psychologists call the "imposter syndrome" - where you believe it is only a matter of time before your colleagues - or your children - realise that you are not up to the job.

"As parents we compare ourselves with other parents," he says, "but we only see the other parents at the school gate or at a birthday party.

Image caption,
Tony is bringing up three young children on his own

"We don't see them when they are tearing their hair out trying to get their child to do something," he adds.

This can feed parents' lack of self confidence, he argues

So he set up Parent Gym, funded by a charitable arm of Mind Gym, to help tackle what many consider to be the world's most important job - being a parent.

The programme aims to give parents skills and ideas so they are confident about the way they care for their children.

The parenting techniques covered in the sessions are fairly traditional, such as sending children to sit on a "naughty step" and the importance of regular routines.

But they are delivered with an emphasis on motivation and self-confidence more often found in the corporate world.

And as a group of mothers and fathers sitting in a classroom at Tower Bridge Primary School in Southwark talk about their experiences of being a parent, what is clear is that they all have something to offer each other - support.

Under the skilful guidance of coach Jess Chivers, within minutes of talking to one another - some for the first time, they find common ground.

One parent, Shuada, describes how her child's behaviour has deteriorated since she went into Year 1.

Another, Jo, says it has been the same with her daughter who used to be described by nursery staff as "angelic".

"Now she tells me she hates me and she doesn't want to talk to me," she says.

But both mothers keep hearing how their children are behaving well at school.

Coach Jess counters that what both parents are seeing is a common from children who are tired out after being on their best behaviour all day.

"It's normal, but the important thing is about getting on top of it before it gets to become normal behaviour," she adds.

Father of three, Tony, who is bringing up his children by himself, has attended a nine-week Parent Gym course at the school.

Coping at home

He says: "It's been great. I got to talk to lots of mums and it is difficult for me to do that usually. We get to share experiences and give each other support.

"Before I did the course I didn't know how important it was for children to follow routines and have a fixed bedtime - or how long a child should sleep for at night."

Head teacher Rosie Compton says the programme, which her school is piloting, has been part of a wider effort to transform children's behaviour at her rapidly improving school.

"Some of the parents say we know that the children behave really well at school but they still find it very difficult to cope at home."

So she hopes that every parent who wants a chance to attend the sessions will get the opportunity to do so.

She adds: "The big thing about this Parent Gym course is that it is nothing to do with social services or educational welfare. Although we are hosting it, and Mind Gym provides the coach, the parents just come and it happens."

At first the school would have to call parents on the day of classes to make sure they were going to attend, but now it has taken on a life of its own.

Image caption,
Octavius was persuaded by a friend to offer help to parents

And Ms Compton explains that the first group to complete the course meets completely of their own accord in a room provided by the school every week.

They even met for special trips out in the summer holidays.

This is really something, says Mrs Compton, whose school serves a community living yards from the River Thames, but in the main never visits it.

One theme that emerges from talking to the old hands of these parenting classes, is that it is as much about giving help as receiving it.

As mother of five, Maria Chaplin, puts it, parents always have room for improvement: "When you are a parent you think you know everything.

"But it doesn't matter how good you are. There's always something new to learn every day."

And as coach Jess adds: "The thing about being a parent is it is the most important job in the world - but people don't always realise it."

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