Originally from South Africa, Zelna has devoted over 20 years to the study and practice of harnessing success in children. She is the founder and CEO of The Kids Life Studio® and her coaching techniques, are now used around the world.
Q) You have been very candid in revealing how, because you are not a parent, you have challenged all your love and energy into being there for as many children as possible. Can you tell me a little more about the background to founding your organisation?
I started my journey as a teacher but I was always one of those teachers who got into trouble – not in a bad way, but I was just naturally inclined to do whatever I could for the children I taught. When my husband and I found out in 2001 that we couldn’t have children, we decided to take a “sabbatical from life” and we packed up our life into boxes, left South Africa and headed off for an adventure to the UK. I got a short-term supply teaching position in a school in inner-city London and this is where the seeds were planted for becoming a kids’ life coach. Ten Year 6 children were put in my care during the SATS exam preparation because of their behavioural and academic problems. Coming from a special needs background, nothing could have prepared me for that job. During the three months I was with them, I realised that to get them to learn and grow, this had to be an inside-out job. So, I researched all there was to know about motivating children and within three months I had helped them all to pass their Numeracy and Literacy and return to their classroom with fewer issues. Later, when I returned to South Africa after my two-year sabbatical, I went on to complete my honours degree in Psychology of Education with motivation as my specialism – because of those kids. They taught me so much and ignited a passion in me to inspire children. I went back to teaching in a top private school and practiced what they had taught me in the classroom. After submitting an assignment for my degree on a parenting / family workshop idea, with extremely positive feedback from my lecturer, I then went on to pilot it with great results. It was at that stage that my organisation, The Kids Life Studio®, was born.
Q) You talk about helping children who have been through horrific experiences, such as human trafficking and living on the streets, ‘rebrand’ their childhood by learning how to make better choices relating to the parts of their lives they were able to control. Can you explain this further?
I believe that every human, young and old is gifted with challenges that become learning opportunities for personal growth. In the case of these children, they experienced horrible circumstances, but what I gave them was hope. I showed them that no matter what adults had done to them on their outside world, they got to choose their thoughts on their inside world. By giving them the skills to monitor and re-engineer their thinking, they felt empowered and in control. I was their tour guide… holding their hand and allowing them to see their inner strength and resilience born out of their bad circumstances. I showed them how to create their own dreams, map out their future and plan the life they deserved. Rebranding childhood is about taking our past experiences and using them to shape us positively – by not giving into a victim mentality.
Q) Children are taught from a young age about eating healthy diets, dental hygiene and being active for their body’s health, but very little about mental health. Does this need to change and why?
I have been an advocate for children’s mental health for the past 15 years. Only through my own journey with mental health issues did I become more verbal in my desire to create change. As an ex-teacher I saw firsthand that so much emphasis is on academic success, and not actually equipping children for life. That being said, as a kids’ life coach I give children seven key ingredients for their mental wellbeing and the good news is that schools do tackle quite a few of them. The ingredients are; eating; sleeping; exercise; quiet time; education; communication and support.
Q) The World Mental Health Association predicts that by 2020 mental health problems in children will increase by 50 per cent. You have said that you plan to be part of the solution – how?
I started my kids’ life coaching journey in 2003 when this statistic first came to the fore and the deadline is now just around the corner! By 2008, I realised I couldn’t be a change maker alone so I started sharing my methods and coaching model with professionals who wanted to pursue kids’ life coaching as a career. To date I have trained hundreds of people globally to support children through coaching and I have a global network of Kids Life Studio certified coaches in 27 countries, directly impacting on the children in their communities. It is not the big things we do, but the small consistent actions on the ground that make the difference. I am privileged to have a dynamic team of professionals who work alongside me in being part of the solution.
Q) The culmination of your new book emphasises that every adult should be a “Secret Parent” in a child’s life. What do you mean by this and does it undermine a parent’s authority or cause confusion if ideas and boundaries vary?
There is a beautiful African proverb that says it, “Takes a village to raise a child”. I believe it is the shared responsibility of grandparents, aunties, uncles, teachers, coaches, childcare professionals and so many others to play an important role in a child’s life that can make it so rich and rewarding. A child needs love from their whole village to stay happy and healthy – not just their parents. This in no way undermines their parents, as often it is in the objectivity and the ability to remove emotion from the relationship that “secret parents” can give a new dimension to what a child is experiencing. On a primal level, parents have the intense need to protect their young and feel threatened and intimidated by anybody who may be seen to add value. They feel judged, or a failure, if their children have problems, however I believe that this can be avoided if parents just learn to ask for help. There is room for different types of love in a child’s life and so long as the parent instils a solid value system in the home, the child will never be confused.
The Secret Parent: The Hidden Truths of Life, Parenting and Childhood through the Eyes of a Kids’ Life Coach by Zelna Lauwrens is available now from Amazon PB £9.99. Visit secretparent.com