Parent Coaching Can Make Life Easier, Or More Stressful. The Choice Is Yours.

Do you need a little extra help figuring out this parenting thing? Parent coaching might be for you — or it might be a waste of time and money. Here's how to make the call.

by Lexi Krupp
A father holding his crying toddler during parent coaching

Parent coaching is the next big thing for frazzled, confused parents (that’s everyone, right?) seeking advice. Like the life coaches that came before them, parenting coaches provide individualized attention for everyday challenges. But, given how common intensive parenting styles are, is this just another source of information for parents to worry over? Or real relief?

Maybe a little of both. Coaches will tout the fact that they are there to help normalize parenting struggles and provide extra support for everything from temper tantrums to acclimating to a new school, sleep problems, or not connecting with a certain child as much as other siblings.

But parent coaches often aren’t mental health professionals — many come to the field from their own experience as parents — and they don’t work with children directly. They’re not going to provide a diagnosis or work through past traumas and they’re not bound by the rules and regulations of licensed professionals. In other words, you can take guidance from a parenting coach, but if you’re in real trouble you’re going to need backup. So when should you think about reaching out? We talked to a few coaches and other experts to suss it out.

Parent coaching is good for… parents who want a different life for their kids.

Good parenting doesn’t come naturally, especially if you want to do it differently than you were raised. “We’re not born knowing those skills,” says Larissa Niec, a child psychologist at Central Michigan University and director of the Center for Children, Families and Communities. “And we’ve shamed parents for not knowing that.”

And while parenting advice is not in shortage, guidance tends to be conflicting and confusing when there often isn’t one right approach. That’s where good parent coaching can come in. “[Parents] want to know the source they’re going to is reliable and trustworthy and can consider their particular family,” says Elizabeth Adams, a clinical psychologist and founder of an online coaching service called Trustle.

Parent coaching is not good for… dealing with seriously disruptive behavior.

If a kid has significant challenges—regular calls from school, disruptive behavior at home, problems with family members or peers—“a parent coach honestly is probably not going to meet those needs,” says Robin Gurwitch, a clinical psychologist at Duke University Medical Center and the Center for Child and Family Health.

If you’re still unsure whether the issues you’re tackling warrant therapy, try asking yourself two questions, advises Niec: “Is this impacting my child’s or my family’s functioning? Is this impacting our health and behavior?” If the answer to either is yes, a licensed mental health professional is likely more appropriate.

Parent coaching is good if… you’re wealthy.

A session with a coach can encompass an in-person meeting, a phone call, or quick advice over text message, but it will all cost you. Coaches charge anywhere from $60 to $250 for a personal consultation, while some online coaching companies offer bare-bones services for $15 a month.

Working with a coach is often cheaper than seeing a licensed therapist or counselor, but not necessarily. Many community centers offer free training programs similar to parent coaching, using practices backed by clinical research. And for parents of newborns, free nurse home-visiting programs are scattered throughout the country.

But these interventions are far from universal and many are targeted for families identified as high-risk or meant for children who have experienced trauma. For families that fall in the middle, options are often slim.

“The statistics about people who are getting services and who aren’t are really grim,” says Niec. Most families who need help aren’t getting it. “That’s ridiculous.”

Parent coaching is not good for… parents who believe in corporal punishment.

If you’re a discipline-heavy parent or stuck in your ways, coaching probably isn’t for you. While parent coaches don’t follow an official set of guidelines, every coach we spoke with agrees with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ stance on spanking kids, and you should expect the same.

“Cut and dry is no corporal punishment,” reiterates Caitilyn Medeiros a parent coach based in California and an elementary school teacher of 15 years. “If that’s what you’re going to do, we’re not going to work with you.”

Parent coaching is good for… dealing with kid’s quirks that are really messing with your day-to-day.

You’re not going to see a doctor for a kid who is a perpetual slob or loves playing video games that you can’t stand or chronically forgets their belongings. But you can call a coach. Kathleen Crombie, a parent coach of nearly a decade with the Summit Center in California, remembers working with a mother whose first grader left her coat at school nearly every day. It would get swallowed in the lost and found pile and her client finally said she couldn’t keep buying a new jacket every week.

Like so many problems parents face, Crombie didn’t have a magic solution to help the girl remember her jacket. Instead she and her client proposed that the first grader and a friend help organize and maintain the lost and found, so stray clothing could be hung up and claimed. The scheme grew to an end-of-week ritual where students would put lost items on the playground each Friday. “It became a community issue rather than one little girl’s problem,” Crombie says. “That was one of the really heartwarming stories.”