Building Resilience in Children

Two years ago, I worked in a primary school as their resident NLP4Kids practitioner. One of the requests that the school had made to me was to help the pupils, over the course of the term that I worked with them, to build up their levels of resilience.

The school reported that many children ‘cried wolf’ at the drop of a hat and were not formulating their own ways to resolve disputes with each other. The teachers were finding themselves getting tied up in ‘he-said-she-said’ situations and didn’t feel that the pupils were being robust when other children were pushing the boundaries with them. This had lead to a perceived culture of bullying. In fact, it was more as if some children were very sensitive and hadn’t yet formulated the best way to respond if someone said “You’ve done that wrong” or “That’s my ruler, give it back” than there being bullying in the ‘usual’ sense.

One of the activities I started to bring into the sessions was called ‘The Random Act of Kindness’. Now you might be wondering “What does being kind have to do with building resilience?” In the beginning it would be fair to say very little. However, over the course of the 10 weeks, I moved the goal posts to get the children interacting in a meaningful way towards those they had previous believed they had had a problem with.

In the first week, it was very simple, they had to perform a random act of kindness for a friend. The following week they had to report back on the kind thing that they did and the effect that this had. Of course all of them wanted their air-time and the acknowledgement that came with them having completed the task. But what we also began to acknowledge is that sometimes there’s no pay-off from being kind to other people. In the beginning, they did the act because they thought it might get the other person to reciprocate and therefore they would gain something by being nice.

For some of them though, they were frustrated, reporting “She didn’t even say thank you!” which lead to a conversation about being a decent person for the sake of being a decent person, not because you expect payment for it in some way.

As the weeks passed, I began to make the random act of kindness challenges more tricky by setting the person they had to be kind to as someone further from them or someone who was perceived to be superior to them, for example their teacher.

The penultimate week I spend with them, I set the random act of kindness challenge as one that they had to do for someone who had previously been unkind to them or wronged them in some way. There was an audible gasp as they processed my request. I told them it was the final hurdle in being able to face up to someone and resolve an issue with them.

Not all of them did it, but I remember one boy, on the last week coming back to share his random act of kindness. He bravely talked in front of the group and said that he had done his act of kindness for someone else who was in the group. They had initially been good friends but had fallen out a few weeks earlier over something silly. Both had made bad comments about the other and they had kept their distance from each other since.

The random act of kindness had opened the door to them reconnecting and communicating. They were both able to say how they’d understood each others communication at the time that they had rowed and how they could have both handled it better and would do if faced with the same situation again in the future.


By Gemma Bailey

Working With Children from Conflict Zones

A new area of work that some of the NLP4Kids practitioners have embarked upon this year is supporting children in the British education system who have fled with their families from conflict zones.

Aside from the obvious challenges of conditions such as PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) which need more therapeutic attention, there are simple things that we as practitioner have realised can make a big difference to helping children who have experienced these harrowing circumstances.

Firstly, the key to helping a child who previously felt unsafe feel safe again is to get them feeling familiar with their circumstances as possible. This comes from providing routine and consistency. The sooner they can feel that they know their way around or that they know what is happening next, the more that they can experience a sense of control.

Control can also come from them having the ability to make their own choices or to make small changes or at least make requests. Help them to feel like they have a life once again. Despite being brought here for safety, they might not be feeling all that grateful for the experience and could be feeling as if they would rather be in a place they know where everyone speaks their language. Giving them a sense of familiarity and control could alleviate feelings of resentment about their situation.

When you go to a new country, there are not just the obvious barriers of language and culture but small things can be really different too. Mannerisms can be different. Non-verbal communication can carry a very different meaning. Our weather is depressing! There will be different sounds and even different smells.

Don’t just put the focus on “This is how we do things here” but make the experience as much about you learning from them as it is about you teaching them. Be ready to step into their world as much as you are asking them to step into ours. Take an interest in their culture and be prepared to help them celebrate it in their way to show them respect for their heritage.

That said there will be things that are the same – after all we are all human beings. To lessen the gap between the differences, also help them to draw their focus towards what is the same between where they have come from and where they are now. What values are similar? What interests would a young person form their country have that are the same as the interests that we have in this country?

Helping them to see how our worlds are closer than they might have previously thought can help them to get a sense of ‘home from home’ and enable them to settle more quickly.

We are very fortunate in this country to have such a rich tapestry of diversity, such that educating yourself about their culture should not be too difficult to do and finding others who share their culture could be something you provide to help them develop a sense of community where they are now.

By Gemma Bailey

Preparing Children for Divorce

I remember reading on the back of a smoothy drink “Contents may separate, but mummy and daddy both still love you very much.”

I thought it was funny and I also thought about the importance of how to explain changes in family life to children. It seems to me that when preparing for separation, a lot of focus goes into the changes.

Obviously, there will be changes and there’s no point in attempting to hide things because children tend to be razor sharp at picking up on changes in dynamics. They might not say that they have identified something is amiss, they might just start acting differently or their behaviour could change to demonstrate that they are feeling uncertain about the odd dynamics at home.

Within reason, it’s important to be honest about what is happening. They do not need the specific details about why things are changing, but they need to know that changes are going to happen and that it’s because mummy and daddy (not to exclude all of the other possible parental combinations but for ease of typing I will just say mummy and daddy) do not love each other as they did in the beginning and have decided to live in separate places in the future.

There’s no point in creating a new version of the truth because you will then need to remember what you have said previously to keep that version of the story going. For example, I met a parent who had told her daughter that her pet guinea pig had gone on holiday when it had in fact died. It caused a problem when the grandparents said they were going on holiday because the child assumed that they would never return again.

Do be honest, but you do not need to be brutal or derogatory towards the other parent. Your feelings for them are not the same as your child’s feelings for them. Your relationship has broken down with them but your child’s relationship with them will continue.

To balance the uncertainty that will no doubt arise from being honest about the forthcoming changes, you must also make it very clear that the vast majority of life will remain the same. If the vast majority of things are set to change, then make it clear what will stay the same.

If the children will continue to go to the same school, say so. If they will live in the same house, say so. If they only saw mum/dad at the weekends anyway because they were in bed by the time they came home and they will now see them at the weekends in the future, point out how similar that is to the present situation.

A sense of security comes from knowing. For a child that means knowing the people, the places the routine. Having this knowledge gives them confidence and helps them to feel comfortable in their lives. If there are big changes to be made, as much as possible talk them through how things will be going forward so that they have an opportunity to mentally adjust to the changes.

By Gemma Bailey

How to Maintain Connections as an Absent Parent

The key thing in this article is that despite being an absent parent, you are one who wants to develop or maintain a connection to your children. Having the will to make it work in spite of the challenges this presents is the key.

How specifically you will connect is entirely down to your own circumstances. With facilities like Skype and FaceTime, if they are accessible to you both then they are of course a very powerful alternative to meeting face to face. Depending on the level of enthusiasm from the child in participating in these sessions (which the absent parent should not take personally because, lets be honest your children probably have a better social life than you and will at time have their friends over and be too busy to speak) it may fall upon the adult who is present (other parent/carer etc) to encourage the child to take up the opportunity to engage in these sessions. This could include encouraging the child to sit down and talk or even sitting with them to remind them of things that have been happening in their lives.

I appreciate that sometimes, the absent parent may be separated from the other parent and that this may cause a lack of willingness to support the child in participating in these sessions. As much as possible, the parents need to forget their own feelings for each other and whether they credit the other parent with being a ‘good enough’ parent or not. Every child has the right to two parents. If both are willing to be part of that child’s life then one should not get in the way of the other doing so or attempt to pollute the others relationship with the child. Let their child have their own relationship with that parent and make their own conclusions about them. Protecting them from what you believe to be true about that parent will not serve a positive purpose because the relationship you had will of course be very different to the one your child has.

The absent parent will need to make extra efforts in finding out about the child’s interests and most importantly begin to show an interest in those things themselves. For example, I had a client who had a keen interest in Skylanders. I’d never heard of a Skylander until I met this client. I could tell that in creating a connection, it was a way in if I would be prepared to indulge in their world. I could tell you all about Spyro the Dragon and Swamp Force if you asked me to (I’d appreciate it if you did because this information has only been useful to me with this one client and it feels like redundant knowledge). Don’t just ask them questions about it, do your own homework so that you can hold a conversation with them about it.

If they have a project to do at school, send them some website links to help them out. Know who their friends are and what the dynamics are like and persist if they appear to not reciprocate the interest. You’re the adult and you mustn’t give up on them if they doubt your sincerity.

You don’t need to be there to be there.

By Gemma Bailey

Calming a Child with ADHD

ADHD is made up of two key challenging disorders. Attention deficit and hyperactivity. Both of these disorders can exist without the other, meaning that someone can have attention deficit without being hyperactive or they can be hyperactive without attention deficit.

A few years ago, I was approached by a parent who had a child with ADHD. As she had 2 other children, both of which had their own difficulties, she was finding it very difficult to help the oldest child (who had the ADHD diagnosis) to keep out of mischief.

He had a tendency to leave a trail of destruction around the home and to then disappear when he knew he had done something he shouldn’t have.

Talking to the parent with the boy there was quite a challenge too because his attention on anything other than cars would last for 3 minutes as a maximum. I was starting to mental make a list of all of the different activities I’d need to throw at him in any one session just to keep him from dismantling the ikea chairs in the office. (He did do this with one of the chairs!)

However, I noticed that with his cars he could focus in a way. It wasn’t focused as you might seen another child play with his cars. He still seemed to flit from the blue car to the red car, or from the car on wheels to turning it upside down and opening the doors or crashing it into a plastic tree, but by his standards it was focused all the same.

The other quirk was that he didn’t seem to connect easily. He was happy to mainly play on his own and go to mum every now and again with a request or to show her something, but he seemed almost annoyed when I started to show an interest in his car world. He wouldn’t answer me a lot of the time and if he did it was a one word answer as if he was too busy to deal with me!

The mother had initially enquired as to whether I could use some hypnotherapy with him to settle him down a little and perhaps help him to concentrate better. In the context of how most people would imagine hypnotherapy to be – an eyes closed deeply relaxing trance state – I made it clear that we were unlikely to achieve that with him. Even if he hadn’t dismantled the chair, I doubted that I had the ability to get him to focus for long enough to create a trance like that.

However, I did believe that within his own abilities there would be something I could make the most of and I felt that the answer would be in the cars somehow.

After mum went outside to leave me on a one to one with him for a short while, I picked up one of the cars and began to move it around the track on the floor at a similar speed to him. His car was moving pretty quickly so I made the sound my car would be making if I was driving it at speed.

After a time, I changed the speed of my car, as if I were shifting down a gear. The engine hum I made was lower and I moved the car more slowly. I remained in each ‘gear’ for a minute or two before dropping down a gear and slowing the speed of my car as I did.

I didn’t notice at first, but gradually he began to slow down too. Not just his car but his whole demeanor seemed less highly strung. When I eventually stopped my car, he stopped too and looked me square in the eye and said “Would you like this one?” and handed me the car he had.

Not only had we suddenly got connection but his energy output seemed to have settled to a manageable level. The next time I saw him we transferred the racy sounds of the car into the speed with which he operated, so that when mum said “Take it down a gear” he could replicate the sound of the car engine becoming lower and take a breath, then begin to move more slowly alongside that. It didn’t ‘cure’ his ADHD but it did give them a technique to help him to focus and behave in a more settled way.
By Gemma Bailey

Resolving Friendship Problems in the Classroom

As we have known for sometime, it can be a challenge to focus on our work when we have other emotional problems that we are simultaneously attempting to resolve in our minds. There is only a small number of things we can do at the same time and concentrating on one subject whilst attempting to deal with our emotions in reference to another subject is not something many adults have fathomed, so for a child it would be even more of an undertaking.

It’s important that children are supported in learning how to manage difficulties in friendships in a way that gives them responsibility over creating their own desirable outcome. A school I had visited recently in reference to the coaching and one to one sessions NLP4Kids practitioners deliver around mental well-being, told me that the children are perfectly confident, but many struggle with resilience.

In asking a few more questions I discovered that a child would perhaps fall out with their friend and bad words would be said from one to the other about each other, and they would become stuck at this point.

They would then report the problem to a parent or teacher. It went to a teacher, the teacher would end up getting bogged down in the nitty gritty details of who said what first. If it was reported to a parent, the parent might end up going to the school to make a charge that their child was being bullied. It seemed that neither had the solution when it came to giving the child the right resources to sort out their own disputes.

A Montessori teacher I know once told me how she would say to pupils in her school “Are you bringing me a problem or are you bringing me a solution to a problem? Come back and tell me when you have found a solution to the problem and tell me about that instead.” if a child came to her with ‘tittle-tattle’ about how the other children were treating them.

This attitude from the adults forced the children to get creative and formulate their own solutions to resolve their friendship problems. This was not only more empowering for the children, but it also provided them with the opportunity to build their own resources to deal effectively with similar problems on their own in the future.

In addition, it freed the teachers from getting their time tangled up in petty disputes and reduced the number of parents who came to the school to complain about the bad words someone else’s child had said about their child. The children would report less because they would figure out more on their own.

This alleviated a culture of “I have a problem and someone else needs to fix it.” It put ownership squarely at the feet of the child.

NLP4Kids practitioner focus on educating children around how they can think and react in situations like this with the activities we provide and the questions we ask. Very often, children do have the answers they need already, but as we all do they get tangled up in the moment and forget to think in the most helpful way. By having children create plans about how they would behave and react in difficult situation they can be better prepared to deal with them independently in the future.
By Gemma Bailey

Creating Motivation to Change in Teenagers

Once upon a time there was a lovely communicative child who had a great desire to please their parents and enjoyed playing with their younger siblings. One night they went to bed and when they woke up the next morning, to the parents horror, the child had turned into a teenager.

Whilst the parents knew that it was not a permanent state of affairs, they also know that they would have to wait for the period of puberty to be over before they would once again meet the child they had known as a child, and that when they would come to meet that young person on the other side, they would be older and different to the child they had known before.

Aside from the physical changes, hormonal changes and adjustments that happen in the teenage brain, the other significant change that parents find are the changes in how their child now acts towards them on a social level.

During teenage years, our young person is going to be testing the boundaries. They may form new peer groups and lose interest in the ones they had previously. The people that used to be able to influence them (including parents and teachers) may find that they now are unable to have the same impact when it comes to motivating the teenager.

This is often (though not always) coupled with an apparent laziness when it comes to taking the action parents really wish they would take. Whether it’s finishing an assignment or cleaning up their mess. Suddenly there is a sloth living in the house where once there was a sporty child!

As teenagers are seeking to move into adulthood, it’s important that the adults around them respect that they are in this transition phase. That may mean that you begin to talk to them slightly differently. That you ask their opinion more, share more with them about the challenges of adult life (within the realms of what is appropriate and not overwhelming). They need to get the sense that you now see them as on a level nearer to your own so that they can appreciate that you respect them. If you want to motivate them, they have to respect you first. However, this is something that you may want to consider your approach to carefully. This new respect is not a right of passage of becoming a teenager. It must be earned. So if you have certain behaviours or habits you’d like your teenager to change or particular tasks you want them to complete, trade with them. They will get more freedom or respect once they do X.

Keep the communication channels open. When there are opportunities to converse, take them as they may not always be open to telling you about their inner most thoughts. By taking the opportunities to converse as they arise you can ensure you find out about their current interests and you can then have a way to connect with them in the future. Typically it’s the throw away comment that they make just as you turn your back to walk away that is your ‘in’ to creating engagement. Keep yourself available to listen to them so that they know they can reach out to you when required. By having good rapport you have the opportunity to lead them towards the conversations you need to have to motivate them without resistance.


By Gemma Bailey

Overcoming School Anxiety

Typically (though not always) school anxiety occurs after a transition. That transition could be from nursery to primary school, from primary to secondary school (most common) or after a change of schools as a result of a change of circumstances (such as moving house to a new area for example).

School anxiety can be just as terrifying for the parents to experience as it can be for the young person who is anxious. The young person may become physically sick or respond with such extreme behaviour such as crying and screaming that the parent can be caught off guard and end up reacting in a way which is unhelpful in getting the anxiety to pass.

The vast majority of the time, and certainly with younger children, the anxiety will pass quickly once the child realises that the parent will persist with taking them to school. In fact, as a nursery nurse, the majority of the time a young child would react badly when the parent brought them to nursery, they would be totally settled and having fun within a matter of minutes. The parents were left feeling rotten and the child was simply making a protest at having the parent leave them.

However, with much older young people the motivations behind feeling anxious will likely be very different to a protest about having to go to school.

Here are just some of the thoughts that might underpin someone’s school anxiety:

Fear of not being liked by their peers
Fear of a specific teacher
Fear of being bullied Fear of not being able to cope with the work
Fear of getting lost in the school grounds
Fear of being shouted at Fear of older/bigger children
Fear of being sick in front of others (emetophobia)
Fear of parents not returning or something bad happening to their parents whilst they are in school.

There may be other fears and there may well be a combination of many of these fears.

As an NLP4Kids practitioner, our role is to ‘chunk down’ on the problem of ‘school anxiety’ so that we get the details of what is behind the anxiety and work on those specific worries. It’s easy to buy into the idea that it’s everything about the school that is a problem all of the time. It’s important that we help the child and the family put the problem into perspective and begin to disprove the idea that this is a permanent, totally stuck problem.

Finally, it can be helpful for the young person to be offered the opportunity to see the school from other perspectives and it really comes down to the school at this point to offer some flexibility in supporting the child in overcoming the anxiety.

I’ve noticed that when I am public speaking, I like to ‘scope’ out the venue somewhat – even if it’s just a room with a stage, I really prefer it when I can have a moment to get on that stage and take a look at the place before the delegates arrive. It helps me to feel as if I own the space somewhat.

Is it possible for the child to visit the school out of school hours. To get familiar and comfortable with the place, to feel like they own that space a little more. It could begin to offer them a greater sense of comfort and authority so that their anxiety begins to reduce.
By Gemma Bailey

National Story Telling

For me, the art of decent book writing comes down to three main things:

  • Attention to sensory detail
  • Apprehension/uncertainty
  • Relief/humour

Last year I had an article published about effective story telling and ultimately how if you can tell a story well, it really can bring even a poor story to life. But a well written story can captivate even the most mundane orator.

For example, right now, as I write this article, I can give you certain sensory data, or not.

I could say, my fingers are clicking away on my iPad screen. That’s a fairly accurate explanation.

Or I could talk about what I see, hear, smell, taste, feel, think and REALLY give you a bigger picture.

Since I’m in Mauritius at the time of writing this article (December 2015) Here is a story tellers way of describing my circumstances.

My iPad is generating more heat than I’d like, as my ordinarily trimmed fingernails tap at the screen as I write. Having had a hair cut before travelling, my blonde (currently very blonde due to sun exposure) tresses are at a tricky length – neither quite right for a ponytail or above the neckline, making heat rash below my hair line an irritation but not enough of a distraction to distract me from the overall clammy, sticky tropical heat. I’m well aware that I’m here in my shorts and everyone back home in the UK is under heavy duvets, listening to the pummelling rain upon the glass windows.

My only near comparison is a water filter in the swimming pool lit in an inviting pool behind me, with its constant water cleansing system a reminder that more than one of us is still here working after the lights at the bar went off an hour ago. If I can get this final article done a weight will be lifted.

Can you gauge the difference in the context of the amount of text generated? It requires more work doesn’t it?! This is simply a build up of sensory information that was not included in the initial description. The crucial fact being that every listener will ‘tune in’ to various elements of that sensory information in a different way than others.

Some listeners are auditory, meaning that they enjoy what they hear and the descriptive sounds. Some are more visual and enjoy descriptions in what they see, some are kinaesthetic and like to know about texture, temperature and feeling, and others might want to know about thoughts, or even smells and tastes.

If you’re telling your story to those who are highly visual, go ahead and talk mainly about what you see in your story – but how do you know they are visual? What if in that moment they are using some others sensory system? Can you build a better story by giving them access to richer sensory data?

Crucially can you teach them to become better storytellers by encouraging them to do the same?


By Gemma Bailey

Making School Transition Seamless

More schools are becoming aware of the importance of helping children transition from primary to secondary school and how vast the change in environment can feel for some pupils.

There is often some distinct sensory differences between the two environments. Primary schools tend to be quieter, with less ‘people traffic.’ There is also a tendency to have one ‘base’ for lessons in primary schools, whereas in secondary there are many different buildings within which certain subjects take place.

My biggest worry when I went to secondary school, was the ‘map’.

I remember the first day there and we initially were given a timetable of the lessons we would be attending each day and the rooms we would need to go to in order to attend those lessons. That was enough of an overload in itself! The environment of one classroom with one teacher who taught a variety of lessons was the norm. Suddenly now there were many lessons, with many different teachers (who I had yet to meet), in many different locations.

And I’d never read a map before. Map reading skills hadn’t come up. Geocaching didn’t yet exist either. But there I was, currently in B block and needed to be in D block. The aerial view of the tops of the buildings in black and white squares seemed to bear no resemblance to the crowds who were bombarding me from all directions in the corridors or the walkways.

As we would say in NLP, the map was not the territory!

But the silliest thing of all was that I mentioned this concern to no one. I assumed it was only a wally who couldn’t figure out the damn map, until very recently (29 years after leaving school), I bumped into an old school friend and blasphemed about the map for the first time. Only to discover that she had exactly the same problem, and like me had never found the correct source with whom to articulate her concerns.

So to make for a smoother school transition, for me, it would have been to have a trustworthy non-judgemental adult who would have said “How are you doing? Are you ok?”

Many schools do now offer a counselling service but often these services are reactive instead of proactive.

That is to say, that they are there to help you when you ask for help. For young, brand new year 7s who want to appear strong in their new environment and who are ‘keeping up appearances’, it is all too easy to avoid reaching out and asking for help, even if the help is readily available.

The solution relies within proactive interaction with each individual. Reaching out to them in a confidential one to one basis and asking the question “Are you ok?”

And in my case “Do you understand the map?*”

*Map reading skills are significantly improved since secondary school!

By Gemma Bailey
G29 Regus Breakspear Park Breakspear Way Hemel Hempstead, HP2 4TZ
Phone: 0203 6677 294