How Does Parent Coaching Work?

Parent Coaching Model Featured Image

You’ve attended webinars, read books and articles, listened to podcasts and tried to implement all the strategies you’ve learned, but are still struggling to see positive changes emerge with your children’s behavior. 

Even after trying your best, you feel like the behavioral challenges during your family’s daily routines are unmanageable. You might be completely burnt out and not sure where to turn for reliable advice. 

If any of these scenarios sound familiar to you, a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) might be helpful to deliver individualized parent coaching.

Let’s dig into what a parent coach can do for you in honing your parenting skills and empowering you as a caregiver.

In this article you will find:

What Is Parent Coaching And How Can It Help Me?

Perhaps you are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information you’ve come across regarding parenting and want to consult with a behavior specialist (i.e., Behavior Analyst) to find what truly is evidence-based.

Maybe you’ve been through a parenting course and tried some strategies, but can’t help but feel you and your family need something more specialized to your child’s personality and your family values. 

Alternatively, your child might have been recently diagnosed with a neurodivergent diagnosis (e.g., ODD, ADHD, anxiety, depression, autism) and you realize you’d like individualized support and coaching so you can help your child succeed.

Parent coaching from a child behavior specialist such as a Behavior Analyst can be a powerful way for you to gain the skills you need to be the interventionist with your own child, in order to create positive lasting changes. 

Clinicians who specialize in parent-coaching will empower and support you in understanding your child’s behavior and knowing what to do to move forward. Intervention sessions are focused on working with the parent to engage in problem-solving and learning new skills rather than direct therapy with the child. 

While it is true that some Behavior Analysts serve clients with autism in early intervention services, when they are hired as a parenting coach the model is unique. The purpose is to equip parents with new skills and strengthen the relationship with the child.

Research shows that a parent-coaching/training model is more effective in creating lasting changes for the child rather than when parents or caregivers are left out of the process (Harriage et al., 2016, Hogan et al. 2015, Cordisco & Strain, 1986, Hassan et al., 2018).

Parent coaching from a BCBA can complement other mental health or healthcare services you might be accessing. For example, your child might already be seeing a psychologist, clinical counsellor or other certified professional specializing in pediatrics or child development.

Working with a behavior analyst (BCBA) will ensure that you are being coached directly to work with your child. Furthermore, they can collaborate with the professionals who are working directly with your child.

Effective Coaching Practices

A Behavior Analyst is likely to use a few key evidence-based practices when they are coaching families. A Behavioral Skills Training model is one of these techniques. This is an evidence-based way to teach new skills involving the following process:

1. Explain the new skill and perhaps provide a written description. 

2. Model the new skill either live or with a video model. 

3. Any family members involved in the coaching sessions will have the opportunity to practice the skill. Using this format allows caregivers to practice the skills they are learning rather than passively listening to a webinar.

4. Feedback is then given on what was done well and what can be improved the next time.

This might be followed by another learning opportunity, including another model, opportunity to practice, followed by feedback. The model can also be used during online coaching sessions as well (Fisher et. al, 2020, Neely et. al., 2021). 

There is lots of evidence to show BST is an effective model for teaching a new skill to adults, so it has become a go-to strategy for BCBAs when they coach parents (Dogan et al. 2017, Seiverling et al., 2013, Lafaasakis & Sturmey, 2013).

While each parent coach is different, and their service should be tailored to meet your needs, you can expect these steps when working with a Behavior Analyst as your parenting coach.

Assessment and Data Collection

Assessment will always be the focus at the beginning of service. The behavior specialist or BCBA needs to know what skills the child already has, the family context, and what new skills and routines are needing to be developed.

This also includes gathering information about the child’s strengths and interests, and also the family and child’s goals. BCBAs seek to make objective clinical judgements based on data, while factoring in family context and information gathered through conversation with the family. This process may include any of the following:

  • General intake interview to get to know the family, caregiver or educator/classroom
  • Goal-setting with the coach/BCBA and the care provider (e.g., parent, educator etc.)
  • Interviews specific to various topics the BCBA determines they need information on
  • Observation of the child engaging in family routines and caregiver-child interactions while in the natural environment (i.e., home, school, community-based location)
  • Data collection can then occur in a few different ways: 
    • The family collects data and sends it to the BCBA
    • The family sends a video for the BCBA to observe
    • The BCBA collects data during a live observation.
Assessment And Data Collection Process Infographic

Planning and Training

A Behavior Analyst will use the information gathered in the assessment process to formulate a plan. This will involve how to meet the goals that have been set out in the assessment process, using evidence-based practices.

You will always be asked by a BCBA for your informed consent before starting any intervention or skills training. Often, the initial skills training or intervention will target a specific routine or area in the family’s life, rather than try to change everything all at once. 

The BCBA may use a structured program such as Balance, which is designed to empower parents with the skills they need to prevent emerging challenging behavior in young children. Research from Dr. Hanley and Dr. Ruppel, the co-creators of this program, have found that parent coaching in early intervention was quite effective for lasting change. 

Another benefit of this program is that it also can be run on the Hi Rasmus platform which has video models, instructions and data collection embedded into a user-friendly app. It’s the ideal platform for synchronous and asynchronous parent-coaching for young children. 

While it was studied on children with autism, it is based on principles and practices from behavior science, which can be applied to a variety of young children with emerging challenging behavior.

Data Collection

After learning some new skills, you will begin to implement these changes in the routines you’ve decided to work on. Your parent coach/BCBA will have you collect some sort of objective information between sessions. 

This may include taking some data yourself and sending it to your coach, having them observe you live through video conference practicing the skill, or sending them a video for them to assess. Decisions are made to either continue practicing a skill or move on to something else. 

Monitoring

Progress towards goals is monitored by the parenting coach/Behavior Analyst. As goals are met, you may choose to work on a new one, taper off to less frequent virtual meetings to check in on how goals maintain over time, or wrap up services if you think your needs have been met. 

This process will look different for each family and Behavior Analyst as it depends on the contract you have laid out, and how many goals as a family you have.

How Can I Access The Services Of A Parent Coach?

The Behavioral Health Collective will have a directory of behavior specialists who are certified Behavior Analysts that advertise their services. Similar to finding a psychologist or counsellor from an online directory, you can find behavior specialists there.

Due to the limited funding to access professional behavioral health services, some practitioners in the BHC Directory offer a sliding scale to at least one client at a time. If you require this accommodation, simply search for practitioners taking on clients with a sliding scale. 

Other benefits of the directory are that you can find practitioners outside of your jurisdiction who are taking telehealth clients or search by specialization and scope of practice and focus. 

For example: early childhood, adolescents, special education, ODD, ADHD, autism, sibling relationships, social skills development or trauma to name a few. BCBAs are a regulated profession through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB), and require ongoing professional development, so many BCBAs will use this opportunity to specialize in niche areas.

If you have a specific behavioral or skill development need, you can probably find a BCBA that specializes in that area. 

Lastly, you can also simply do some googling to find a BCBA that might be taking clients by using either your region or ‘telehealth’ in your search terms.

Bottom Line

Not everyone will need to hire a parent coach, but it can certainly be helpful if you find that you’ve tried a lot of strategies and classes with little success. 

The benefit to working directly with a Behavior Analyst as a parent coach is they can individualize strategies and intervention to your family’s specific needs and come alongside you to develop the skills you need to support your child for lasting change.

Research shows that an evidence based approach based on data collection, practice and feedback is effective for learning the skills you’ll need.

A downside of parent coaching is that public or extended health funding for such services is limited. However, in the future BHC directory, you will be able to find clinicians that will offer a sliding scale for services.

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