Parent Coaches Are on the Rise. Should You Hire One?
Toddlers aren't the only ones who have tantrums. As the adult in charge, it's often tempting to scream or cry alongside them. Enter: parent coaches. This growing profession is here to help parents raise their kids in a more intentional way.
"It's kind of crazy that so many parents say parenting is the most important job that they have, and yet there's not a lot of education for parents, understanding childhood development, understanding emotional regulation," says Kiva Schuler, founder and CEO of the Jai Institute for Parenting, which trains parent coaches.
There's a general belief in our culture that if you're a good person, you should naturally know how to parent. But anyone who's ever had a kid (or was a kid themself) can probably tell you that's not always the case. "One of the benefits of social media is that a lot of parents are realizing that what comes naturally is how they were parented," Schuler says. "So if they want to do it differently, they need support."
As parenting advice on TikTok and Instagram has exploded, more parents are admitting that the role is not always intuitive, and many of them are seeking the support of a parent coach who can help refine their approach at home.
What Are Parent Coaches?
Parent coaching is not so much about dealing with children as it is about training the parent. "We have very little education on how to get your kids to behave. Our work is really focused on teaching adults healthy communication skills, emotional intelligence, values-led leadership, calming their own nervous system so that they're not having their inner 5-year-old fight their actual 5-year-old," Schuler says.
Gloria DeGaetano, founder and CEO of the Parent Coaching Institute, makes the distinction of calling the professional a "parent coach" rather than a "parenting coach" because she says that "we are the partner to the parent, the whole person," she says. The actual work of parenting, she says, is left up to the parent themself. A good coach won't feed you answers or tell you what to do — they simply ask good questions that help you figure out what makes most sense for you and your family and how to harness the strengths you already have to work through challenges, DeGaetano says.
"Instead of just telling them what to do, I like to tell people my job is to give you some great tools to create connection and cooperation, and then you won't need me anymore," says Sean Donohue, who became a parent coach 11 years ago after getting inspired by watching "The Super Nanny."
Parent coaches differ from family therapists in that they're focused on developing skills and identifying core values; they're not aiming (or qualified) to make a mental health diagnosis or heal past wounds. "Coaches really are about defining an action plan going forward," Schuler says. That said, sometimes family therapists or child psychiatrists become parent coaches to assist their practice.
How Can a Parent Coach Help?
Many people come to parent coaches because they want to raise their kids differently from how they were treated growing up, and they want to improve their go-to instincts and reactions.
Sometimes they're dealing with a particular challenge they don't feel equipped to handle. Donohue says clients come to him for everything "from everyday sassiness to disrespect to sibling issues, screen addiction, substance abuse, trauma, blended families, the anxious or angry child."
In private sessions, group coaching calls, or sometimes even quick texts, a coach will act as a sounding board for parents' concerns. They might work to help couples better understand the strengths of each other's parenting styles, or do role-playing exercises meant to build emotional-intelligence skills. Mostly, they will ask questions meant to help parents reflect on their values and what might be helpful in their family. "There's an invitational stance," DeGaetano says. "Would you consider trying this? Or, this was really helpful to clients that I've had in similar situations. What do you think about it? Does it fit your unique situation?"
Whatever the reason they seek out a parent coach, by building stronger emotional intelligence as a parent, clients are able to pass on those skills to their kids, Schuler says. "The way that children learn relational skills, communication skills, empathy, and compassion is through modeling," she says.
How Much Does a Parent Coach Typically Cost?
The price of a parent coach largely depends on where you live. DeGaetano says that for one-on-one or couples' coaching, most parent coaches will charge a similar rate to what the average massage therapist charges in your area. That means a 12-week program could range anywhere from $500 to $3,500, Schuler says.
There are also group coaching sessions available, which could be on the more affordable end of that spectrum. And some parent coaches, like Donohue, also offer video-only courses — his cost $49 per week.
No matter the format, know that when you hire a parent coach, it's not typically a one-and-done workshop, it's a process. "I find about eight sessions over two or three months is ideal because then the parents can think through what was talked about and try things out," DeGaetano says.
What to Look For in a Parent Coach
While there are some parent-coaching certification programs, there is no official parent-coaching degree, and there are no regulations around who can call themself a "parent coach." So it's up to the parent to do some research to make sure a coach will offer what they need.
Some coaches specialize in a certain developmental stage, while others might home in on a particular issue like struggles over technology. Almost all will offer a pro bono introductory session so you can find out if their coaching style is a fit for you.
Just remember: to make the most out of working with a parent coach, you have to be willing to take a deep look at your own impulses and what's causing your challenges at home. Donohue says, "I like to tell people, 'You cannot change your child, but you can change yourself.'"