Parenting is hard. When I became a mother I quickly realized it is one of the most challenging things I’ve had to do in my life. Of course, there are tons of great resources out there to support parents in their parenting journey—from books to blogs to social media, podcasts and sometimes it seems like everyone has become a parent coach. There is no shortage of parenting advice out there.
However, there may be a period in your parenting journey when you feel like you just don’t have the specific tools you need. You might feel like you need someone to be there with you in real-time to navigate tricky situations.
Parent coaching can be a solution to the challenges of parenting when you just don’t feel you have the tools you need.
Here I’ll delve into what a parent coach is and how they can help you and your child navigate the challenges of parenting, whether it be child behavior or family life issues.
Parent coaches are professionals who work with caregivers and parents to understand the challenges they face in everyday life, in a non-judgmental way, and coach them through making positive changes that are in line with their values, while being sensitive to parenting style and family context.
This may sound like a lot of fluff, so let’s think about an example that many families are familiar with from the early days of parenting: baby sleep coaching.
Many of us may know at least one friend who has employed the services of a baby sleep coach or consultant at some point (maybe even you have!). I like this example to illustrate parent coaching because there are a lot of aspects that are similar:
Each sleep coach has a different background, training and approach
Some are certified baby sleep coaches but others are not and have different training. This may or may not be important to you
Baby sleep coaching services have some similarities but there is no one-size fits all and services should be individualized to fit the family’s values
Sleep consultants assess the situation and use their knowledge to coach the parents to implement changes that are in line with their parenting style/values but will have the desired effect the baby (and family’s) sleep.
Let’s go through each of these features to compare how a baby sleep consultant is similar to a parent coach so you can better understand how parent coaching works.
Parent Coach Training and Certification
Each baby sleep consultant has a different background and training. It is not a regulated profession and there is no formal schooling or credentialing that is required for someone to advertise as a baby sleep coach.
While some are certified by various training organizations, there is no single national or international governing body. This is the same for parent coaches.
However, there are plenty of other professionals working as parent coaches with other backgrounds like clinical counseling, psychology, and behavior analysis.
A parent coach may have credentials in these other areas. But, it’s important to be clear on your goals for the coaching service, and your parental issues, when determining what type of professional you want to work with.
For example, if there are complex mental health needs in the family, and this is part of the presenting issue, you may need to seek out a referral from your pediatrician for a psychologist or clinical counselor. Parent coaching services are typically not set up to deal with complex mental health issues.
Some behavior analysts (BCBAs) offer parent coaching services to a wide variety of families, regardless of a child‘s diagnosis. The principles of behavior can be applicable to young children with emerging challenging behavior, so many BCBAs specialize in this area.
If your child has an autism diagnosis, there may be public or extended health benefits to access behavior analytic services. In this case, some BCBAs will use a model in which they coach parents, or other family members, to implement strategies that promote positive changes in the family routines so a family and the child can live a life in line with their values.
Approach and Style of Parent Coaches
One clear example of how different styles and approaches impact services is with baby sleep consultant methods.
Some advertise the cry-it-out method and others are opposed to this. It is important for both the coach and the family to have a general idea of the coach’s style and approach in order to ensure they’re a good fit.
If a family doesn’t want to use the CIO method, then they need to find a coach that uses different tools. This is similar to parent coaching in that families will want to get a sense of the coach’s style and approach to see if it aligns with their own.
Each parent coach will have a different approach and use different modalities to support parents in achieving better well-being for their families. This will depend on their training and style.
Ask a coach about their approach before you start working together. In the way that you’d want a good therapeutic alliance with a therapist for yourself, you want to ensure that the style of your parenting coach works with you. Consider asking some of the following:
What is your experience with our particular issue? (e.g., a child has ADHD and trouble following family routines independently, sibling rivalry, parent self-care, tantrums, etc.)
Do you take a directive or collaborative approach?
What is the plan for communication throughout the process if we are uncomfortable with a suggestion?
Is there a particular modality, tool or framework you use in your work? (e.g., CBT, ACT) This question can help you parse out if someone is practicing outside of their scope of competence.
Do you offer a free initial call to assess if we are mutually a good fit?
Structure of Services for Parent Coaches
As with a baby sleep consultant, parent coaches offer a range of services and levels of support.
Often a baby sleep coach will do a free initial call to see what your challenges are. From there, you can sign up for a quick consultation, or book a more intensive support in which they’ll write up a personalized sleep plan for your child. Maybe they’ll even come to your home or coach you on a video call through implementation of the plan.
The same is true for parent coaches. Services can range from a short phone call with the parent coach that results in making a quick tweak to the routine, to more in-depth assessment and coaching through a detailed sleep plan.
If someone is advertising ‘parent coaching’ services, this means they are empowering the parent or caregiver to make the changes needed to achieve various goals for the family. They may interact throughout the process with the child(ren) but the focus is to support the parent, through parent-coaching sessions, to be the one to make the changes needed to promote wellness for the family. There may be specific goals for the service, or you may want more general parenting support.
In contrast, if you have a referral from your pediatrician for a counselor or psychologist, they would do therapy sessions directly with a child. While many of these mental health professionals will also include the parent in sessions on how to support their child, the focus is on the child.
Similar to baby sleep consultants, parent coaching services can even be done through telehealth as the focus is on the parent and coaching them through their own behavior changes in order to support change in their child’s behavior. Additional family members might be involved in the parent coaching sessions.
This is contrasted with seeking a psychotherapist for your child who would likely see them 1:1 and work with them directly. While parents may also be involved, the therapist would be directly doing an intervention with the child.
You may be wondering when you might choose coaching versus psychotherapy, so I’ll make the differences clear.
Parent coaching is NOT Psychotherapy
It’s important to know the difference between psychotherapy and parent coaching, especially if there are mental health issues in your family.
Psychotherapy has many different modalities and is generally used to treat eating disorders, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, addictions, personality disorders, or Schizophrenia.
Psychotherapy can also help people without a diagnosed mental health issue but who may need additional tools to navigate the challenges, stressors, and traumas of life such as divorce, grief, managing unhealthy relationships, or recovering from traumatic experiences. Here is a helpful article to delineate coaching and psychotherapy.
A psychotherapist is trained to deal with complex mental health diagnoses and challenges. They have the training and expertise to deal with the psychological and neurological factors at play with challenging behavior.
Psychotherapy is delivered by a registered Psychologist, clinical counselor, or Psychiatrist. While coaching is more about achieving your goals for your family life, psychotherapy is about finding the root historical factors of why something is happening and how to change it.
You may work with both a parent coach to support you as the parent and a therapist to deliver psychotherapy to your child and consult on the case. Typically, a parent coach can be more hands-on and involved on a more regular basis than a psychologist or psychiatrist (this is at least true in Canada!).
If you are working with a parent coach who is a behavior analyst (BCBA), they are trained to coach adults in making the changes to the environment that are needed to promote positive behavior changes in the child.
What Issues And Challenges Can A Parent Coach Help Me With?
Each parent coach will have different areas of expertise that they are qualified or trained to support families with. Here are a few examples:
As mentioned above, a registered psychologist or clinical counselor might be helpful to seek out if your child has a diagnosed mental health issue.
What Do Services from Parent Coaches Look Like?
Parent coaching can take many forms, but there are a few things that will likely be in common across practitioners.
Generally speaking, parent coaching is intended to be a short-term relationship between a practitioner and parent(s) in which the coach supports the family with advice on how to solve issues the family is facing. Let’s break this down.
In contrast to working with medical or mental health professionals, that may be on a family’s support team for years, parent coaching typically is weeks or months.
Sometimes there may be a quick solution that really only requires one session.
Again, there is a lot of crossover with how baby sleep coaches operate. The coach gets to know the family’s issue, makes some suggestions, coaches the family through implementation, answers any questions along the way, and then re-assesses if goals have been achieved.
Parent coaches will get to know your family in order to best understand your context. They will want to know about your family composition, history, dynamics, values, culture, strengths, and challenges.
This is a critical component to the success of long-term success. Part of this process is building trust with the coach. Before you start planning how to make changes, it’s important that a caregiver and family trust and feel understood by the coach.
Keep in mind, this is a general outline of how parent coaching may look. There will be great variability. For example, the complexity of the challenge, and the number of compounding factors in a situation, may make a family’s case more complicated and therefore longer to solve. If some challenges have gone on for a long time, they will likely take longer resolve.
As with psychotherapy, parent coaching is usually billed on an hourly basis. The range in costs can vary depending on the training and experience of the coach. It is common to pay anywhere from $50-$150/hour for parent coaching services depending on your country, region, and cost of living in your city.
If your parent coach is a BCBA, check your extended health benefits to see if their services are covered. Typically some form of psychotherapy will be covered under your insurance plan as well. Otherwise, parent coaching is usually paid for out of pocket.
The Bottom Line on Parent Coaches
If you’re interested in online parent coaching, be sure to check out this article for more info. To hear directly from a parent coach, listen to our podcast episodes with Michele Shilvock and Courtney Bilton to learn more about what they do.
If you’re interested in how parent coaching with a behavior analyst works, check out this article for more info.
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