Read a handful of media stories on parenting coaches, and a familiar narrative emerges. The coverage often kicks off with an anecdote about unruly children and their frazzled parents. In a 2008 Newsweek article, for example, a 5-year-old girl can't seem to get along with play dates, blowing her top if pint-sized companions don't fall in line with her dictatorial demands [source: Kuchment]. Similarly, the New York Times, in 2005, featured a pair of roughhousing brothers whose antics exhausted their mother to no end [source: Belluck]. After portraying the domestic environments run amok, reporters typically introduce a parenting coach who, after a series of consultations, helps resolve both child management issues and parental insecurity.
Parenting coaches are like niche cousins of life coaches, professional mentors who help clients puzzle out personal difficulties, such as maintaining work-life balance or forming healthier family habits. For a fee, parenting coaches, who often conduct their sessions over the phone, serve as support hotlines for moms and dads to strategize approaches to common challenges such as toilet training, attachment issues and general household supervision. Some coaching services involve in-home visits to observe parent-child interactions firsthand, whereas others restrict their outreach to the Internet, offering instant message chats with coaches and e-newsletters filled with tips and resources. Parenting coaches allow moms and dads to confer with third parties about childcare hiccups, without having to rely on friends and family, who might offer biased advice, or see a specialist, which generally comes with a higher price tag [source: Belluck]. Employing a parenting problem solver can also save time for moms and dads whose typically packed schedules leave little room for commuting to therapy appointments and sifting through self-help manuals.
Potential money and time savings aside, these dial-up mentors shouldn't be confused with licensed child or family therapists. Although some coaching organizations require employees to complete curriculum-based certification courses, there isn't an industry-wide standard when it comes to educational background or training for parenting coaches. Licensed therapists may refer clients to parenting coaches to work on non-clinical issues from time to time, but just as department store personal shoppers aren't fashion designers, coaches aren't mental health experts. That distinction is cause for concern among some child psychologists and professional therapists, because kids' behavioral problems -- which might stem from mental health problems -- are a primary reason parents turn to coaches for help [source: ParentingCoachTraining.com].
But before we explore whether such wariness is warranted, first let's cover the bases of how parenting coaches work.
Parenting Coaching 101
Parent coaches started springing up in the United States and Canada in the early 2000s, right around the time when reality television shows about Mary Poppins-like "super nannies" -- who swoop into homes to tame problem children and powerless parents -- competed for ratings [source: Rosenberg]. Those specialized coaching services weren't necessarily a byproduct of the TV nanny trend, but they're similarly modeled on the idea of injecting hands-on child rearing expertise into parenting. But while the nannies portrayed on-screen came with resumes replete with extensive childcare credentials, the backgrounds of parenting coaches can be far more diverse.
Many parent coaches transition to the field from early education, social work and child psychology careers [source: Kuchment]. For example, Gloria DeGaetano founded the Parent Coaching Institute (PCI) in 2000 after years of teaching in grade school- and college-level classrooms [source: Parent Coaching Institute]. Prospective coaches who complete DeGaetano's year-long distance learning coursework also are required to have at least two years of prior experience working with parents in some capacity to be accepted into the program, which focuses on understanding parenting styles and honing coaching techniques. Meanwhile, plenty of parent coaches also come from a variety of jobs unrelated to family development and childcare, and may not have been formally trained as mentors. Some may simply base their coaching on their own parenting practices [source: Good Morning America]. For that reason, savvy moms and dads interested in investing in this type of help ought to investigate coaches' credibility before hiring.
Coaching often starts with an hour-long phone or in-home consultation that allows the parenting mentor to identify problem areas, such as a child's persistent disobedience to household rules; set goals, such as successful potty training; and build rapport with the child-weary client. From there, specific coaching models and follow-up check-ins will vary, depending on the individual practice and the severity of the parenting conundrum. In addition to addressing specific child-rearing dilemmas, coaches encourage parents to pay more attention to their own self-care -- in other words, finding more relaxation and self-confidence in exercising their authority.
The cost of parent coaching varies, with initial intake sessions running about $100. From there, monthly or weekly sessions are either billed by the hour -- $75 per hour is a commonly cited price point -- or as a flat rate, generally $250 or $300 per month. Though that only adds to the already steep of costs raising kids, according to one survey from a parent coaching practice, people are willing to pay between $125 to $149 for a single session, and 15 percent of respondents said the reassurance and calm they derive from the paid guidance is priceless [source: ParentingCoachTraining.com]. And when it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of parent coaching, that peace of mind is one of the most commonly cited benefits.
Is parent coaching effective?
The success of parent coaching in fostering long-term positive change hasn't been studied in-depth, possibly because the industry is relatively new and remains unregulated, unlike licensed therapy programs. Nevertheless, non-peer-reviewed surveys and evaluations conducted by parent coaching institutions indicate that a majority of clients find the services helpful. A 2007 case study of three parent coaching projects developed by the Parent Coaching Institute found that participants at each site reported significantly improved parenting skills as a result of the professional mentoring [source: Schriffin and DeGaetano]. Similarly, in a 2001 analysis of the impact of coaching on four parents with "noncompliant children," early childhood education researchers found progress among the entire group [source: Marchant and Young]. Even Web-based counseling has been shown to be an effective outlet for cultivating parenting best practices [source: Wade et al].
But parents should also understand that coaching won't always cut it. Consulting qualified mental health professionals may be a more appropriate approach if children exhibit warning signs of more serious, negative behavioral or emotional patterns, including the following [source: Nemours Foundation]:
- Persistent anxiety, excessive crying and other indicators of depression
- Social withdrawal
- Sudden appetite changes or significant drops in academic grades
- Severe temper tantrums
- Signs of substance abuse
In a way, coaching can be more valuable for its potential to train-up happier parents than its ability to mold happier kids. Research out of Ohio State University published in 2011 found that mothers and fathers with lower confidence in their parenting abilities experience higher levels of childcare-related stress and fear of being negatively judged [source: Lee, Schoppe-Sullivan and Kamp]. A reassuring voice on the phone cheering them along the way and urging them to trust their instincts can provide much-needed relief to those who feel inadequately qualified for bring up their sons and daughters. Also, the "myth of perfect parenting" -- the unrealistic, media-perpetuated expectations of hassle-free mother- and fatherhood -- has only added more pressure to the intensive job of modern-day child rearing; coaches, at times, can temper that intensity with logical problem-solving and emotional support [source: American Academy of Pediatrics]. Considering the inherently mentally and physically taxing occupation of raising kids, parent coaches can be worth every penny, because it sometimes pays for moms and dads to have someone in their corner.
Since it's often referred to as the most difficult job in the world, is it really any wonder that parenting now comes with optional coaches-for-hire? Parenting coaches aren't to be confused with babysitters, nannies or child psychologists; they're paid mentors who cheer on moms and dads and, more often than not, simply reassure them that they aren't so terrible at raising kids after all.
A direct product of the time-strapped, stress-fueled environment of modern family life, parenting coaches pinpoint problems and troubleshoot solutions to parenting issues in order to save moms and dads the hassle of having to seek out therapy or read the library of parenting self-help books out there. At the same time, the existence of parenting coaches also points to the oversaturation of the 21st-century business of bringing up babies. So many models of and methods for ideal parenting exist, many parents are terrified they'll do something wrong and ruin their kids, necessitating a coach to guide them through the more challenging twists and turns. And while that kind of resource can be invaluable to frazzled moms and dads, it also provokes the question of when parenting turned into such an endurance sport.
- Adams, Cathy Cassani. "Parent Coaching: A new option for parents." Chicago Parent. March 23, 2010. (May 15, 2012) http://www.chicagoparent.com/community/the-self-aware-parent/2010/march/parent-coaching--a-new-option-for-parents
- American Academy of Pediatrics. "A 'Perfect' Parent." HealthyChildren.org. (May 15, 2012) http://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/Pages/A-Perfect-Parent.aspx?nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR%3a+No+local+token&nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR%3a+No+local+token
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- Kuchment, Anna. "When Kids Attack." Newsweek. April 14, 2008.
- Lee, Meghan A.' Schoppe-Sullivan, Sarah J.; and Kamp, Claire M. "Parenting perfectionism and parental adjustment." Personality and Individual Differences. 2011. (May 15, 2012) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111129123301.htm
- Marchant, Michelle and Young, Richard K. "The Effects of a Parent Coach on Parents' Acquisition and Implementation of Parenting Skills." Education and the Treatment of Children. Vol. 24, No. 03. August 2001. (May 15, 2012) http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ643031&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=EJ643031
- Nemours Foundation. "Taking Your Child to a Therapist." KidsHealth. September 2010. (May 15, 2012) http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/family/finding_therapist.html#
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- Rosenberg, Meisha. "Just a Spoonful of Sugar." Bitch. Fall 2009.
- Schiffrin, Holly and DeGaetno, Gloria. "PCI Parenting Coaching Pilot Projects." February 2007. (May 15, 2012) http://www.thepci.org/articles/PCI-Parent-Coaching-Pilots-Feb2007.pdf
- Wade, Shari L. et al. "Live coaching of parenting skills using the Internet: Implications for clinical practice." Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. Vol. 42, No. 06. December 2011. (May 15, 2012) http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&id=2011-25154-001