Whether it’s sports, arts, music or education there has to be a well thought through strategy to engage young people into that activity. Simply believing that you have a great activity that serves them in a positive way is not enough.
Not by a long shot.
In the relationship between your activity and the child who will be undertaking it, there are, in fact 3 sets of value, that have to be met and taken into consideration before any programme is designed.
Typically, a practitioner thinks about the kind of people they would like to interact with in the context of their work (e.g “I think I’d like to work with children”) then they think about the kind of work they would enjoy doing (e.g “improving their ability to learn maths”). Before they commit to this plan, they very often consider, and perhaps even test the water in how if would make them feel if they were to execute this plan.
This is the first mistake! Let me explain why….
Recently I was talking to someone about increasing the options for physical education in school and in the community for children. I asked him why he felt it was important to do this and he gave me some very accurate facts about the nations health, the obesity epidemic and all of the reasons why health and fitness are important for children.
This man had a real passion for resolving these issues, and I can absolutely understand his motivation. However his motivation was not going to engage the very children he wished to attract to his programme.
I spoke to a group of children I was working with in a school who I knew participated in regular sport and fitness related activities. I asked them WHY they did so.
Not one of them said they wanted to avoid being overweight.
Not one of them told me that they were worried about heart disease or diabetes.
None of them said they were concerned about the nations health.
What they did say is that they liked having energy in their bodies, that they like to have targets and they liked being able to meet them to help them feel successful and that they enjoy the sense of achievement that they get from winning.
They couldn’t give a hoot about their health and why would they? At 7 years old you feel indestructible. You think you can spend your life living on jam sandwiches and that providing the jam is always there, everything will be ok.
So step one in designing your activity for children, is make it appeal to the children who will be doing it! This might mean conveying a very different message to the one that motivates you.
The next set of values to consider and communicate, is the values of the parent. Ultimately, the parent (or school) will be paying your wages. What you do has to meet their ideals too.
Lets look at the example above, would the parent want to engage the child in a sporting activity because they want their child to feel that they have energy in their body? Maybe, but there are probably other driving motivators.
For parents, they might chose to engage their child in an activity to expand their knowledge and learning. To have them achieve – not, might I add, so that the child can experience a sense of achievement, but in many cases so that the parent can feel a sense of achievement!
Have you ever seen parents of children playing tennis? The parents often demonstrate more passion and frustration that the children do! They cannot help themselves. There is a line in a song by Alanis Morissette – “I’ll live though you, I’ll make you what I never was. If you’re the best then maybe so am I?”
As a parent, you can’t not experience the successes and failures of your child.
So as practitioners we need to tap into the desire that the parents have, to encourage them to engage their child into the activity, but then very swiftly set some boundaries that manage the parents expectation and involvement in what their child is doing.
Parents can heighten, prolong and embed forever in a young persons mind the winning results of a child. They can do the same for the losing results too.
Of course sports provides us with a clear winning/losing set of circumstances, but this behaviour shows up in music exams, dance competitions or almost any other activity a child does. Parents need to be coached into how to react towards their child’s performance, results and learning.
And finally there is of course you, the practitioner. Having designed you activity to consider the needs and values of the child, the needs and values of the parent, then you can finally think about yourself? What is it that you want to achieve? And doing what you are proposing to do, can you still achieve your own goals and aims?
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By Gemma Bailey
Gemma Bailey is the director of NLP4Kids, a children’s therapy service that provides teen therapy and child counselling using NLP, a proactive alternative to conventional child psychology. If you are looking for a child counsellor to help your child overcome stress, depression or anxiety related problems or if you wish to book a workshop to help your child improve their mental health call 0203 6677294 or email Gemma@NLP4Kids.org Gemma is based in Hertfordshire and works with clients in and around Hemel Hempstead, St Albans, Watford, Potters Bar, Berkhamsted, North London and Hertfordshire.