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General Articles

Judy Churchill: Of Being the Child Whisperer

By Judy Churchill

One of my all time heroes is Cesar Milan, AKA ‘The Dog Whisperer’, not only for his unparalleled skill in turning around what seem to be impossibly hopeless pet/owner situations but for the fact that he clearly explains that he rehabilitates dogs and TRAINS owners. As he explains, an out-of-control dog is never the dog’s fault but always the owners. If you don’t train the owner, you cannot expect to have a lasting impact on the dog’s behaviour however good a dog trainer you are.

In my own work with challenging children, I have found the same to be true. Many children have been entrusted to me over the course of the past thirty years and there is one thing that they all share in common – something is not working in the parenting skills of the care providers.

Whether children come to me for extra tutoring or home schooling, much of the work involves coaching, which is really ‘rehabilitation’. It can involve the undoing of old, bad or inappropriate habits and the learning of new, useful, good habits. It can involve learning how to learn and study, learning about structure and respect and how to comply to rules. It can involve ‘detoxification’ from electronic devices and thereafter the responsible use of the latter. Whatever it involves, unless there is support and participation from the parents, the long term sustainable success of any programme is doomed to ultimate failure. I therefore rehabilitate children and TRAIN parents.

Over the years I have seen the direct ‘bad’ results of the following parenting mistakes or ‘crimes’:

  • Overindulgence

  • Soft structure

  • Neglect/abuse

  • Overmanagement/Helicopter parents

All of these lead to the same result – dysfunctional children who in turn become dysfunctional adults and unless the cycle is broken, they will go on to create their own dysfunctional families. Back in 2005 when I was attending the ITAA (International Transactional Analysis Association) annual conference in San Francisco, I met Jean Illsley Clarke PhD one of the authors of ‘How Much is Too Much’ and I participated in her brilliant workshops on raising likeable, responsible and respectful children and learnt many invaluable skills on how to help people regain control of their children and families.

What is clear is that overindulgence, (the main culprit in creating unhappy, out out-of-control children) although it may come from having a good and generous heart, is damaging beyond belief and does not instil responsibility or independence in your children.

Sometimes the four ‘crimes’ mentioned above become so normal and part of our daily modus operandi that we don’t even know how to tell how much too much really is. Very often the first indications that all is not well is when the child starts underperforming and behaving badly at school. I am often given children who are underperforming, have been suspended or even threatened with expulsion from school. Parents assume that correct tutoring will turn the situation around but unless I examine from where the problem stems, I am unable to work towards a sustainable recipe for success. Once we have identified which of the above four issues are causing problems and have developed a parental plan to redress the situation, I can work with the child to address the behavioural issues affecting learning and achieve long lasting academic results.

So in an age and an area of the world (the Riviera) where having too much is the norm, how can we tell when it really is overindulgence? By asking yourself these four questions developed by Jean Illsley Clarke, you can check whether a situation is or has the potential to be one of overindulgence:

  1. Does the situation hinder the child from learning the tasks that support his or her development and learning at this stage? (learning to do chores, respect for others, doing things for themselves, delaying gratification, structuring their own time, learning how to deal with discomfort, frustration or disappointment, learning how to be a helpful and compassionate part of a family unit, learning how to be responsible for their own acts)

  2. Does the situation give a disproportionate amount of family resources to one or more of the children? (includes money, space, time, energy/airtime, attention and psychic input).

  3. Does the situation exist to benefit the adult more than the child? (Buying toys the adult wants or going to places the adult will find fun under the guise of doing this for the child, appeasing the adult’s feelings of guilt)

  4. Would this situation potentially harm others, society, or the planet in some way?

If the answer is yes to any one of these four questions then this is a strong indication that overindulgence is a problem.

One of the answers I most frequently receive when asking children what they do to help at home is ‘Nothing! We have a maid, she does it’.

Following several studies on overindulged adults the following was clearly identified: that stress as children and adults was about not learning HOW to do things for THEMSELVES, about not mastering some of the crucial developmental competencies. What it amounts to is what Illsley Clarke terms as ‘Learned Incompetence’. Helicopter parenting where parents overmanage every minute of every day of their child’s existence falls into this category. If a parent overfunctions for children when they are perfectly capable of doing something for themselves, they almost guaranteeing that those children will consequently underfuction and thus the parents are unintentionally reducing their opportunities to learn and impeding their avenues to competence.

Allowing children free reign re digital devices and screen time is a source of neglect, as is not spending enough family time together particularly at meal times. Children will find other sources of company (the wrong kind) and you will end up in a constant bad behaviour/punishment cycle where both parent and child are in the wrong and this is very hard to break without help. It is extremely important for parents who are unsure to seek help learning about developmental tasks and then develop an action plan for the family. Getting help and advice takes the guesswork and guilt out of the procedure and bring things down to a rational, well thought-out level where families can start to function again.

Showing love for your child is less about giving your child money and things than about assertive, supportive care that encourages, growth, responsibility and independence.

Assertive care meets needs directly by judging the child’s need for care, support and opportunities to learn and provides for those needs if the children cannot meet those needs for themselves. In other words the care is needs-appropriate and there is no overindulgence involved.

Supportive care is the loving presence (yes you need to be around – absent parents please sit up and listen!!) of parents who support growth. They respond to requests for aid or cries for help. They offer help only if ‘no’ is a safe and acceptable response. The help may be accepted, rejected or negotiated. There is no overindulgence.

Neglect is one of the most harmful of all the ‘bad’ parenting skills as it often sparks overindulgence as a way of compensating and then you have the disastrous seesaw of neglect + overindulgence. Neglect means that you do not meet the child’s needs or ignore them and is a passive form of abuse. The most common scenario in our region is wealthy parents who are emotionally or physically absent, too busy or too preoccupied to pay attention and who subcontract the child care to inexperienced and inappropriate care providers. The family typically has a foreign maid who doubles as a ‘nanny’ and the child is left to rule the roost with no real parental care of guidance. Having a parent’s physical presence in the room is not enough to make a good connection either. The parent must be fully there in mind, spirit and emotion.

Children will not learn about responsibility, rights and obligations unless they are shown a good and appropriate role model by their parents. I work with my charges so that they know what my rules and boundaries are, what they can expect from me and what I expect from them. Some have trouble working independently as they expect to be spoon-fed and I have shown them that I will help and guide them but not do the work for them. Unless the behavioural lessons taught by me are being mirrored at home, then the results will be short lived.

Working with parents for the good of the family is a sine qua non for taking on a ‘challenged’ child. That is why I say: ‘I rehabilitate children and train parents’. Thank you Cesar Milan and Jean Illsley Clarke for showing me how to show others.

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Judy is based in Monaco and specialises in transformational coaching working with both individuals and companies. 

Judy is also a qualified language teacher/trainer for adults and children in French, English and Spanish.

If you would like to receive coaching, communication skills training, language tutoring or certified translating from Judy, you can contact her on:judy.churchill@eloquencelanguagesandtranslations.com or judy.churchill@orange.fr via Facebook messenger and www.judychurchill.com

Wednesday, 1 August 2018    Section: General Articles
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