Coaching for Successful Parenting
In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child
raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything. You just need
a lot of love and luck – and, of course, courage.
– Bill Cosby
And, of course, a coach. OK, Bill Cosby didn't say that, but he probably would have if there had been parent coaches back when his kids were young. The fact is, parenting is a dark continent, and it's one that most parents are marooned on. There often isn't anyone you can turn to and ask, "Am I doing this right?"
While telling you what to do isn't the goal of parent coaching, the trained parent coach can offer a supportive ally and sounding board. This can be helpful not just when the going gets tough, but also in the little day in and day out challenges that can make a family lose perspective on the big picture.
Pros and Cons of Coaching
Parent coaches are not Super Nanny. They don't come into your home, make a chart of where everyone is supposed to be and when, reward the fixed family with a trip to Aruba and then drive off to the next job. Parent coaches are also not mental health professionals, and they are not equipped to solve potentially serious problems with children that should be treated by a mental health professional.
Having said that, parent coaching is not a bad idea. It's also an idea that was probably inevitable. After all, career coaches have been a popular trend in the corporate world for some time now. Gloria DeGaetano had that encouraging corporate model in mind when she started the Parent Coaching Institute in 2000. "Parenting is a process, and there are a million ways to do it right," she says. "This is about having a supportive companion on the parenting journey who can help you prioritize and be a sounding board for decision making."
DeGaetano feels this type of support is particularly important in our media-driven culture, as today's parents have so many outside forces attempting to undermine their values and authority. "Our culture has never been this complex before," she says. "Popular culture is out there eroding traditional values, and when parents try to take a stand against that they become the unpopular culture. It can be very discouraging if you don't have someone to back you up and help support you in this process."
Parent coaches generally provide that support via telephone, offering one-on-one counseling sessions with varying price levels. With parent coaching, only the parent interacts with the coach; there is no family overview except that offered by the parent. This is not family counseling.
Parent Coaching for Preteens
Parent coaching can be helpful during any phase of parenting, but Jennifer Wolf, founder of Pathways Parent Coaching, says it can be particularly useful when children begin to enter adolescence. Wolf, who was a middle school teacher for eight years before entering the coaching field, finds that the preteen years are when parents seem to really need someone to support their decisions and try to ease their anxieties.
"Parents tend to step back a little from parenting when their children enter middle school, and the middle school culture encourages that," Wolf says. "But when problems arise or the children start moving in a direction their parents don't like, they sometimes have trouble taking that parenting role back. As a coach, I help parents find a place where they can parent from their intuition."
Terri Douglas of Walled Lake, Mich., turned to parent coaching when her preteen son became very difficult to deal with. What the coach did was not try to change her son's behavior, but to change the reactions of Douglas and her husband. "The big benefit we got from coaching is that my husband and I became a better team," Douglas says. "We began to communicate better and realized that our parenting had to be more consistent across the board. At the time, all these techniques seemed ridiculously lame, but they worked! Our situation has definitely improved over several weeks."
Coaching or Counseling?
There are times when this type of parent coaching is not appropriate because the problems go deeper than just family support. In those cases, counseling with a trained psychologist is what the family probably needs. Steven Richfield, Psy.D., a child psychologist, says that he would hope a parent coach would be able to recognize situations that are over his or her ability.
Richfield created Parent Coaching Cards years ago as a system for parents to help coach self-control and social skills in their children. He actually coined the term "parent coach," but not with the idea of coaching parents to deal with children he's never met. Rather, his idea was to help parents develop skills, similar to that of coaches, to facilitate their child rearing. He's not against this new model of parent coaches, where they focus solely on the parent, but he does worry that a parent coach may not realize when family counseling is more appropriate than parent coaching.
"I think that there are places parent coaching of this type is entirely appropriate, but there's a blurry line the coach needs to adhere to," Richfield says. "Anything along the line of a mild or transient developmental problem is fine for the type of coaching that is taking place over the phone, but if things become more severe or of lasting duration, then parent coaching isn't the answer."
Richfield does see parent coaching as a great way for a parent to vent, find validation for their efforts and just realize that they're not alone in their parenting journey.