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Definition and Role of a Parent Coach

Sharpen parent skills. Learn how to provide guidance and help your child develop critical life skills and coping skills without criticizing, judging, or lecturing your child.

How Does the Parent Coach Help Kids?

Parenting asks us to fill many roles in our children's lives. Provider, nurturer, advisor, friend,
observer, authority figure, confidante, tutor, the list goes on and on. Often times these roles conflict with one another. No doubt every parent has experienced the sense of being pulled in opposite directions, unsure of which role to step into at any given moment.

The struggle over which parenting role to fill is complicated further by the fast-paced, permissive world our children confront every day. A daily barrage of social and emotional forces await kids at school, among friends and peers, on the sports field, and without exception, at home as well. Disappointments, competition, provocations, inequities, temptations, distractions, and many other pressures, can easily jeopardize a school-aged child's efforts to keep their lives in balance.

Children Need Life and Coping Skills

Many kids do not possess the necessary "coping with life" skills to contend with these pressures. This results in all-too-familiar negative outcomes: academic underachievement, social problems, damaged self-esteem, missed opportunities, and conflict-torn family relationships, among others. The probability of these consequences is increased if a child struggles with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD hampers a child's efforts at emotional self-management, the pursuit of long term goals, learning from mistakes, and other critical developmental tasks of maturity. Of course, plenty of children without ADHD confront similar hurdles on the road to social and emotional maturity.

In my professional role as a child psychologist and family role as a father of two sons, I've often witnessed the painful effects of children meeting up with situations they are unprepared for. Children's lives are filled with many decision points challenging their social judgment, self-control, and problem-solving abilities. It's easy for them to fall short in any of these skill areas, setting the stage for trouble. My approach is to help children recognize how coping skills allow them to deal better with demanding circumstances, and ultimately, offer preparation for the many challenges ahead.

My belief in planting the skills for social and emotional growth in children has become a central thread in my roles as parent and psychologist. Rather than wait for problems to occur, I have opted for a more proactive and preventive approach to helping children mature. In my work, I guide parents toward discussing with their child the skills that are necessary to successfully cope with problem situations. In order to strengthen the child's sense of trust and security, I stress that children must feel that parents are on their side and will help them figure out why things go wrong, not just punish them for misbehaving. My convictions about a child's need for vital social and emotional skills building in today's challenging world led me to develop a parenting approach called Parent Coaching.

Coaching Your Child Makes You a Better Parent

Parent Coaching places the parent in a new role when their child fails to cope with a difficult situation. This role is much different than the multitude mentioned earlier. It takes into account present priorities, such as putting a stop to an emotional episode or getting a child to complete homework, but it doesn't stop there. Emphasis is also placed upon using the present circumstance as a window into the child's inventory of emotional and social skills. Much like an athletic coach keeps an eye on each player's performance to signal the need for practice drills, the Parent Coach holds a similar perspective. From this vantage point, the child's efforts to cope with the usual and expectable demands of life signal where "coaching" is needed.

The Parent Coach role emphasizes the importance of a safe and nonjudgmental dialogue between parent and child. In order for coaching to proceed, the child must feel accepted and understood, not criticized and lectured. This requires that parents resist stepping into the shoes of the disciplinarian, or what I refer to as the "parent cop," since this role either silences children or invites them into a defensive posture. Especially in today's culture, children need our guidance but they are less accepting of it if parents impose it through intimidation tactics. When problems are discussed, the Parent Coach affirms through words and body language that parent and child are "on the same side" in their efforts to identify why the difficulty arose. In other words, the old standard, "I'm going to teach my child a lesson" is replaced by, "What is the lesson that both of us can be taught?"

Although there are many social and emotional lessons for children to learn, the Parent Coach accepts the fact that they have much to learn as well. Children will be far more receptive to a parent's attempts to coach life skills if they don't feel talked down to, but sense that they and their parent are "in this coaching thing together." Parents contribute to this safe dialogue when they admit to their own errors, accept helpful and constructive feedback from others (including their child), and pledge to work harder at self-correction. In fact, when children observe their parents demonstrating these vital qualities, they tend to be much more willing to accept parent coaching.

Once the parent is prepared to step into the "coach's shoes" it's time to consider the overall plan. The objective is to develop and refine children's coping skills. Broadly speaking, these skills can be placed under two headings: social and emotional. Under the heading of social skills includes cooperation, sharing, judgment, perspective-taking, and so on. Under the heading of emotional skills include resilience, frustration tolerance, self-control, perseverance, and many others. The Parent Coach keeps these various skills in mind when talking with their child about tough times. Many situations require several of these skills, and children will typically succeed in some areas while falling short in others. Parents are advised to pinpoint where successful coping was practiced, as well as note where their child had difficulty handling a challenge.

Parenting Tools to Help You Better Communicate With Your Child

One of the difficulties that arises for parents is holding their child's attention during these
coaching sessions. Similarly, it can be problematic to discuss these skills in a language that children can quickly understand, i.e., most kids will be confused if parents use the term, "social judgment." Because of these obvious limitations, I have developed a series of Parent Coaching Cards that allow coaching to proceed in a kid-friendly fashion. By taking the typical and trying circumstances in children's lives, and transferring the coaching messages into terms that kids easily understand, parents have a "playbook" to refer to in their coaching role. Colorful illustrations on one side, and "talk-to-yourself" coping messages on the other, provide fun and simple self-help solutions to children.

The following vignette is an actual exchange between a child and her father that occurred soon after the parents introduced Parent Coaching Cards:

Muriel, a bright 8 year old girl, kept her negative feelings hidden from her parents until she couldn't hold them in any longer, and they erupted in temper tantrums. Her parents were perplexed about these episodes since Muriel normally behaved in an appropriate and loving manner towards both of them.

After becoming familiar with the Parent Coaching approach, Muriel's father invited her to "take turns at being the coach." (This involves the parent and child picking out cards that the other person could use in specific situations.) Her father invited her to start, and Muriel began by turning to the "Quit The Clowning" card. She went on to explain, "Dad, you tell a lot of jokes that really hurt my feelings, like when you say you're going to flush me down the toilet or throw me in the garbage. I would like you to stop that." Muriel's father was surprised that his jokes hurt so deeply but he responded with the open-minded demeanor of a coach aware that he has much to learn about his daughter. "I'm really sorry that I've hurt you, but now I know so I'll try hard to quit that kind of clowning around," said the father.

After they spoke some more about Muriel's hurt feelings, it was time to reverse roles. Her father turned to the "Watch Out When Words Pop Out" card, and wove in a discussion of Muriel's temper tantrums. This led to an open discussion of how Muriel could work on appropriately expressing her feelings before they pile up inside and lead to tantrums.

It was a big step for Muriel to calmly assert herself with her father. She had previously viewed this type of self-expression as "being bad." But two vital elements gave her the freedom to risk this new role. Her father's open-minded attitude and the pathway afforded by the Coaching Cards provided enough reassurance for her to try it out.

The Coaching Card pathway offered her a tangible way to give feedback to her father. The illustrations and words further supported her feelings, and allowed her to realize that this was a common situation that many people find themselves in. Once her father had responded with acceptance and taken responsibility for his own error, it was much easier for Muriel to do the same.

APA Reference
Richfield, S. (2019, August 6). Definition and Role of a Parent Coach, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/parenting/the-parent-coach/definition-and-role-of-a-parent-coach

Last Updated: August 6, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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