by Alan Wilson
Sometimes before we take a course of action we need to know that the voice speaking to us is connected to real life experience. That the person we’re trusting has both come from the places we’re trying to get from, and been to those places we want to get to.
We want a fellow traveller who can guide us with the light of experience, and keep us entertained with tales by firelight when we’re tired and low.
Here’s a little of my journey to date and what I’ve learned about personal development. I hope you’ll invite me on your travels.
Selfishness and Seriousness
I suppose it all started when I married, for the first time, late in life. We had our first-born 38 years ago — Toby — an amazing life changing experience. I was serious about things then and I wanted to be the best Dad ever.
I really enjoyed getting up in the middle of the night (occasionally) to feed him and change him. What a fantastic bonding experience that was. To think that I had contributed to this wonderful small person had a monumental impact on me. A couple of years later we had the fabulous Holly. I can remember, deep inside, being terrified because I loved them so much and I couldn’t imagine what I would do if anything happened to them.
I suppose it is an easy excuse, but work took over. I was successful and enjoyed the money and trappings a growing business offered. About 4 years later I felt dizzy with the freedom and the ‘toys’ I was gathering and became even more selfish, to the point I lost interest in my family; not in the children per se but other things had an impact on my time. I was looking for more… More of what, I wasn’t sure but I couldn’t be committed to the marriage or the same level of parent/child communication.
Stresses, Strains and Second Chances
I saw my children every weekend for at least one day. Saying goodbye was a real heart wrenching experience, I was consumed with a sense of loss and guilt every time. As they grew older, it became alternate weekends for the whole weekend. I took an interest in their progress at school, sports days and Christmas plays to overcome these negative feelings that were plaguing me.
Our time together became more stressful as Toby and Holly wanted to do ‘their thing’ and I was torn between spending time with them and my own work and household chores. To overcome this parent/child communication conflict we tried an experiment. We would each take turns in choosing what we wanted to do the most — and the other two went along with it. Although I did not do everything I wanted, at least the time we spent together was quality time. We discussed our plans on the car journey or as soon as we met, and our connection improved. This experiment was a blessing, as we could all do what we all wanted to do, some of the time.
I then met someone who was to become my second wife. By now I was in my late 40’s and she wanted to have children. I was enjoying my children and felt I was doing a good job (that was my perception, even though I still felt so terribly guilty about leaving them) and I was open-minded about having another child.
As soon as we married the business started to get into trouble. I was determined to pull it around and fought for far too long, until in the end I was bankrupt. I lost everything.
Out of the ashes of all of that came Cassy.
The Phoenix Rises
I was determined to make up for the things I hadn’t provided for Toby and Holly; mainly loads of quality time, quality parent/child communication, being there when they came home from school and well… just being there.
The failure of the business, debt, no money and lack of self-respect put an unbelievable pressure on our marriage. It didn’t last. I was heartbroken. I had to walk away from an acrimonious marriage and leave Cassy before I could make up for all the mistakes I had made with Toby and Holly. This was the worst time of my life, I felt guilty, lonely, morose — everything and everyone was against me. I had a nervous breakdown.
You may be wondering why I’m the luckiest Dad in the World?
Spain, Study and Self-Discovery
It started with the help of some counselling, some very good friends and a lovely holiday with Cassy. We went to Spain on our own for a week when she was 4 years old and she never asked for her Mum once. All of a sudden, I realised we had a special relationship and I really meant something to her. I started to repair myself and to commit myself to being the best Dad on earth, focusing on our connection above all else.
This was a light bulb moment as I noticed how confident Cassy was (despite the effect of the divorce, even though we tried to keep it from her) and the positive impact this had on her popularity, learning ability and sense of fulfilment. I also realised the importance a committed Dad (despite being separate) and good parent/child communication have on their child’s development.
When I look back, I realise I wasn’t the nicest person in the world! I was selfish, sulked when I couldn’t get my own way and had an ego the size of a house. The first big lesson was that I realised I didn’t love myself – that took a lot of soul searching. But an even bigger lesson by far was the realisation that I didn’t love myself unconditionally. In other words I wasn’t congruent within myself.
Going Inward and Making a Difference
I’d been in advertising and marketing for over thirty years and had a proven track record of achievement, developing a successful group of creative and marketing companies. My ethos was to challenge and support clients to create a differential from their competitors, not easy in business-to-business markets. Through lots of discussions a Unique Selling Point (USP) was created and a marketing strategy to support it was developed, which invariably led to satisfied and profitable clients despite their competitive environments.
After a time, I became frustrated with a lack of new challenges and began to look for something more meaningful. I underwent a period of self-examination and investigated many complementary therapies’ personal development techniques and spiritual practices. I came to the conclusion that, in order to fulfil my purpose; I needed to pursue a career where I could make a real difference to other people and, in particular, to the lives of children.
I also recognised that my perspective of children related to my business philosophy i.e. every child is unique, their USP, we need to help them find their strengths and build on them. It seemed a logical progression to marry that philosophy with my business acumen to set about making a positive impact on children’s lives – but how?
Humbled, Moving Forward
Following a meeting with a Life Coach, this idea became a serious goal for me – to find a way to help children to achieve their potential. My own life coaching training followed and it was ‘humbling and exciting’. To further enhance my skills in enabling others to become self-empowered, I trained in parent coaching and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP).
It was now 2002, I identified my passion, which was to holistically develop millions of children globally, a bit big and I had no idea how I was going to do that. I also discovered the power of life coaching to build self-esteem, personal empowerment and self-responsibility. The key to being a great coach is the incisive/intuitive question, which unlocks the ‘light bulb’ moment.
Realising that these techniques could be adapted for children, I approached the Head Teacher of my children’s school and together we developed a pilot programme to help the children become more confident, more fulfilled and better learners. Nobody was using coaching in schools but the Head appreciated the value of confidence and was open to a pilot. His view was “We spend our lives cramming information into children. This approach is completely different: we are asking the children what they think and want.” Mr DH, Head Teacher.
The target group selected was Year 4 ‘under achievers’ and they responded very well, the Head did an analysis 15 months after with some great feedback “sticking at a difficult task instead of giving up” “ feeling better about making mistakes and learning from them” and “they were even enthusiastic about doing homework”. And using the points values for each National Curriculum Level showed an increase in Maths of 25% and in Reading almost 50% compared to the year group as a whole.
Buoyed by that experience and being drawn to working with challenged teenagers I ran a similar project, in a deprived area. From my NLP training I was aware of the way we process information based on 5 senses: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, gustatory and olfactory. One sense is likely to be a predominate one which is reflected in the words someone uses. This time I introduced a buddy system to the goal setting, where buddies were matched by their predominant sense, so when they were challenging and supporting each other they were speaking in the same ‘language’. This brought couples together who hadn’t previously mixed and they carried the relationship out onto the street. Again, the project was successful, but more importantly for me this was where I discovered that if a young person had a problem, their parents/carers had a bigger problem, another illuminating moment, so parents became my focus.
Because of my previous experiences in spirituality I had a sense that if my Higher Self could connect to the clients Higher Self we could cut out all the complicated emotional tangles. Or put simply a deeper level of listening/connection, which I’ve been calling an ‘energetic connection’. Having completed my Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction training I realised the energetic connection is within mindfulness, it’s all about a person living in the present moment, their ‘beingness’ and founded in ‘love’.
Around 2003 I met Suzy Miller (a speech and language specialist from the US) what I took from her experiences was the evidence of my Higher Self concept working. What she showed me was autistic children are extremely sensitive to an adults’ emotional state and sense it. I brought her over from the US, a futurist from Australia and put them together with my spiritual guide to run a conference called “Kids are really different these days” in 2006. I also created a DVD of the conference to explain how and why parenting and educational methods of the past are no longer working for today’s children.
I have practiced this concept and broadened the scope and applied it to more challenged families, a few of which had children with ‘labels’ ASD, ADHD, learning difficulties etc. It soon became apparent these children were even more sensitive.
The strength of our strategy is based on the fact that children are sensitive to an adults’ emotional state because they have experienced less negative programming, those with ‘labels’ even more so. Children take responsibility for the adults’ emotional state but don’t have the confidence or communication ability to express themselves. So they react in the only way they know how to get attention, which is generally seen as ‘bad behaviour’ creating a downward spiral in the parent/child relationship. Most parents recognise they are in a spiral of reactive behaviours but don’t know what to do or who to speak too.
At the time there were a few parents working with coaches who wanted coaching and were prepared to pay for it. Life coaching experts told me that, unless a client came with a commitment to change their life, and pay in advance, life coaching would not work. Therefore my plan to coach parents from disadvantaged families, who didn’t understand what coaching was and didn’t pay for it, was doomed to failure.
The conventional parenting programmes at that time were based more on a deficit model of fixing the parent or child, or both. They were teaching scripts and strategies, so if this happened, this is what you say and do, we now know this approach creates dependency. I believed there was a different way to support disadvantaged families, help them realise they had innate abilities and wisdom and were more powerful and capable than they realised, there was an opportunity to connect more deeply and to manage their situation in the moment.
I went for a job as Parenting Tutor for Medway Adult Education and was successful, but I wasn’t prepared to accept it on the basis of teaching the conventional parenting programmes. It took some negotiation but eventually I was teaching my original ideas. Being there for 6 years gave me the opportunity to hone my skills and our approach. I set up the charity Every Family Matters (with Develop Your Child CIC as the delivery partner) to seek funding to further develop the approach and develop a better quality and evaluation process to measure outcomes.
We managed to raise £10,000 from the Big Lottery to pilot our parent coaching programme as we were negotiating how we deliver this, the Local Authority said we couldn’t work with disadvantaged parents as this approach won’t work. Despite the evidence we had of the work we had done previously they refused access so we had to send the money back.
Money Was the Answer!
I went to a different Local Authority who was more open and they agreed to allow us access and supported the programme, we reapplied, were successful and ran the course. We then applied for a Big Lottery grant to scale up the programme and won £77,000 over 2 years, in a deprived area with disadvantaged families.
During the first session we met a single parent who appeared to be a bit scatter brained and full of emotions, struggling with all sorts of personal and relationship problems. Towards the end of our first course she said “I get it – whatever happens ‘it’s all good’ because when things go wrong we can look for the learning.” I was very excited and knew we had something special.
This was evaluated by Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) Part of the Executive Summary stated that: “Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the positive outcomes for children is the description in many parents’ accounts of children being coached to use the approaches within the Parent Champion Programme for themselves. At the most profound level, children have learnt to coach their parents and siblings, to step back from conflicting situations and to employ relaxation techniques both regularly and to calm themselves down in times of stress and conflict. They have helped parents to set goals for the family and for themselves to improve their lives. Perhaps most powerfully of all, children have applied these approaches on their own in new environments without the direct support of the parents who taught them, for example when visiting a father or grandparent. The evidence gives a strong message that as a society we are underestimating children. When listened to, understood and empowered, they need not be passive recipients of ‘behaviour training’ but can contribute to loving, caring and the building of positive relationships in their own families and communities.”
The key was engaging with the parents and carers. I went around to all the pre-schools, nurseries, schools and children’s centres in the catchment area doing presentations, drop ins etc. I also ran the Family Coaching Café’s in Starbucks, Costa and Caffe Nero as weekly drop ins over 9 months.
This project not only proved our innovative programme worked but also the importance of working with the families to create respectful and trusting relationships, before we started training.
So, wouldn’t it be wonderful if every child on earth could have these positive attributes and abilities?
Our programme uses the best of coaching, emotional literacy and mindfulness techniques, underpinned by neuroscience to create personal empowerment. The Learning Framework of our core programme has four key tools:
- Focus on success to build self-esteem.
- Changing your thoughts to change your feelings, emotions and actions.
- Deep listening to enhance connection.
- Goal setting to create forward momentum.
This powerful combination of modalities provides each individual to intuitively take what they need to make transformational change, parents, children and professionals have called it magic in action!
We are really encouraged by a Commissioner for Children and Family services who said “Reading through the material you left with me I find this very fascinating and a positive culture shift in supporting families and young children. I can see this as a driver to a new way of working and an innovative approach to resolving this challenging and emotive subject.”
In my view my success is based on my passion and underwritten by my coaching philosophy: I believe every child has limitless potential. It starts as a spark catching fire and needs to be identified, protected, nurtured, developed and respected. This spark must grow into a strong flame to survive the school system, parents under pressure and the influence of some peers.
What I’ve learnt along the way is that when you’re working in your passion/purpose you are attracting what you need. It may not be what you want but what you need. You also need to be patient because everything happens in divine time not just because you set a time limit or get frustrated and try and make it happen. Another thing is you need to set your intention, believe and take some action towards your goal and you will be amazed at what actually happens! When you are in your most resourceful state, little things will happen, coincidences like connections with people, thoughts and feelings and these will be insights that you don’t get when you’re stressed, frustrated or angry.
What has astounded me is since 2002 I’ve seen a need and taken action and phenomenal things have happened, I’ve tried to capture the key moments in this story. What I keep realising is that my head gets in the way and I become impatient or fixated on a small challenge and still do, it’s all about being gentle with yourself and loving yourself unconditionally. What I hope you will take away from this is to simply trust and allow, trust in yourself and allow what needs to happen. My guiding principle is if it feels right, do it!
Personal development is not a quick fix, it is a life long process and you CAN create the life of your dreams. The key is identifying your passion/purpose because that is likely to be the only thing that will give you the drive, determination and patience through your fantastic personal journey. Of course it’s also likely that you will make a contribution to improving society or the planet, even both!
Here Comes the Sun
I believe over the last 15 years we have created an innovative evidence based series of programmes to transform family relationships, they just need to be picked up or promoted and accepted by a suitable person or organisation to make a societal change!
I’ve been blessed and guided to challenge conventional thinking and I’m living my dream.
But it doesn’t end there; the second biggest influence on a child is the education system. There is a huge undercurrent of disaffection for the current system and a large number of alternative approaches. We’ve had some encouraging results from pilot programmes in schools, but without the full commitment from the schools.
My next dream is to combine three of our programmes where we work with all the school staff (including reception, kitchen etc), students and parents together, to create a learning environment that they all own. We are currently talking to an SEN school to deliver this program – watch this space, I do feel it will happen.