Here’s What You Need To Know Before You Hire A Parenting Coach
Many parents are turning to them for guidance, but it comes with a steep price tag and few guarantees.
It’s often said that as soon as a parent feels like they’ve got their kids figured out, something changes and life is of questions all over again. Almost any parent can relate to hitting a bump — or deep pothole — in the road and being jolted out of their parenting comfort zone. While pediatricians and school counselors exist to support your kids, who helps moms and dads when life as a parent throws you for a loop?
Enter parent coaches. A bit like other coaching services — think life coaching or accountability coaching — parent coaching is designed to tackle one specific area of your life. Working with a parenting coach will mean a highly individualized approach, and that may benefit some families, though it often comes with a steep price tag. We asked two parent coaches about the industry, the cost, and how parents can be sure they’re choosing the right coach for their family.
What is a parent coach?
When you are struggling, for whatever reason, with the work of parenthood — perhaps your child has anxiety, or other behavioral challenges — a friend, or even your pediatrician, may suggest seeking help from a parent coach. A parent coach is like a very focused life coach, says Ann McKitrick, M.S., parent coach and founder of Nurtured Noggins. “A parent coach just hones in on this one area of your life. But actually, this one area of your life affects all of your life,” she says.
It’s important to find a parent coach that is educated in child development and family dynamics. Unlike a therapist or other support person for your child, a parent coach will focus on helping you examine and expand your methods as a parent. Sometimes that means addressing patterns of behavior that you may have inherited from your own parents. The work almost always begins, says Bikowsky, with unpacking a client’s experiences of being parented themselves. “Often, we can’t see that as adults,” she said. “So, having someone there to help ask the right questions is very beneficial because — whether we like it or not — we will repeat the patterns we saw. Unless we have talked through the parenting that we had, we’re going to replicate it.”
With an awareness of their own history and patterns, parents can often make simple changes in how they respond to their child’s behavior, says Bikowsky. And that can make a huge difference.
What do parenting coaches do?
Families come to parent coaches for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, a family is in what McKitrick calls “a crisis situation,” but it can also be a time of transition, or even just because they want to be a better parent. It is a parent coach’s job to ask simple questions from an informed perspective, and offer targeted, practical, individualized solutions. They seek to address and explore the following questions:
- Why are these things happening?
- How can we conceptualize and tackle all of the variables the parent is juggling?
- How can we prioritize the home environment to support the social-emotional competence of my kid?
- How can we prioritize the home environment to support the social-emotional competence of the parent or parents, too?
Another challenge coaches can help with is identifying what has changed recently that might be causing a family’s challenges. “Every time your child ages up, you have to parent differently,” McKitrick says. “Understanding what stage you're in, what your role is, and what's going on with your child developmentally is extremely important as a parent.” Often, the root of the problems is a slight disconnect between the parents’ expectations and their child’s real capabilities. Looking at the parent’s experience or experiences from their own childhood, and how that may be impacting their efforts as a caregiver is key, McKitrick says.
Each session should have a concrete takeaway, says McKitrick. “We have a goal for each session, and I want the parents or a parent to leave with a good, strong, active integrity that they're going to take when they leave, and then we give a summary sheet and whatever resources might be helpful based on what we've talked about and just some goals of things to work on.”
And though some parent coaching is conducted virtually, many parent coaches — like Bikowsky — can come in to a family home as part of the work, to observe and facilitate the environmental shifts that parents are hoping to implement.
Parent coaching is targeted & solution-focused
Parent coaching is highly goal-oriented, and although it can be expensive — costs vary widely, but think about $1,000 for an 8-week package — parents usually see a coach for a condensed period of time. “You can do some really good work in 4 to 6 weeks, depending on the problem,” Bikowsky says. Parents she works with leave their first session with action plans, clearly defined goals, and often scripts to try out.
Many parent coaches offer their work in packages of anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks (and upwards). “Usually within 3 to 6 months, people feel pretty confident. They've gotten through the crisis and they’ve got the tools that they need, which is great,” McKitrick adds.
The difference between a therapist and a parenting coach — and why its not covered by insurance.
There are a number if differences between the work you’d do with a therapist and work you’d do with a parent coach. “A broad difference between therapy and parent coaching is that therapy looks backwards and tries to figure out what’s happening today based on the past, while coaching looks at where you are today and looks at where you want to be in the future,” McKitrick explains. “We look at your goal and ask, how can we get there?”
Though parent coaching can be therapeutic, there is no diagnosis tied to the work, Bikowsky adds, which is a big difference between the two (and the reason it is not currently covered by insurance.) “We're not working on a therapeutic intervention, we're working on how you say things to restructure your environment to help you and your family,” Bikowsky says. During home observations, her work is to try to recognize the triggers ahead of time, and offer in-the-moment suggestions about ways to phrase or frame things. One way she does this is by writing very specific scripts for parents to try in challenging moments.
Qualifications & certifications to look for in a parent coach
A quick internet search makes it clear that the term “parent coach” is being used quite broadly at the moment. Rather than seeking out a specific degree or credential, Bikowsky suggests parents look for someone with experience in addressing your family’s particular challenge. For example, she says, if your child is struggling with executive functioning, you should look for an executive functioning coach, whereas if your child is struggling with behavior, you should look for someone with a really strong behavior background. “I do not think you need to have a PhD to do this work, but you do need to know what you're talking about,” she explains. “One thing parents should is do is have a 15 to 20 minute consult before any decisions are made.”
“The thing that I would look for is someone who is a number of years ahead of me as a parent, and who has a good broad understanding of human development and child development,” says McKitrick. Referrals from friends or a local Facebook group could also be a useful resource.
Once you find someone, trust is key to the relationship, says McKitrick. “Trust is probably the biggest qualifying factor of any kind of relationship like this. You have to trust this person to follow what they say. If you start into a coaching relationship and you don't feel trust, then it would be time to back off and do something different.”
What to do if you can’t afford a parent coach
Because parent coaching is not generally covered by insurance, equity of access is a huge issue that frustrates both McKitrick and Bikowsky. If you’re not in a position to pay a parent coach, McKitrick suggests starting with the other experts you work with. “I would start with early childhood professionals in your life,” she says, like your family’s pediatrician.
Friends, families, and mentors can also be a source of wisdom. “We used to have villages that helped young families, and those folks are still out there. We just have to find them,” McKitrick says. “Find people within your own family that know and love you, and love your kid. We tend to discount other people’s road that they’ve traveled, but if you just ask some good questions about their own parenting journey, you might learn a whole lot.”