Put me in, Coach: Growing field offers sideline strategies for winning the parent game | by Debra Melani

Posted on Sun, Nov 4, 2012

Little Haley was having a grand time at the zoo. Funny animals. Sunny skies. Ice-cream cones. Dad. It was pretty much heaven for a 4-year-old girl. Then the question came: “Haley, do you want to go home in 10 minutes or in 5 minutes?” Puzzled eyes gazed up at her father. “Daddy? Is 10 minutes longer than 5 minutes?” “Yes, Haley” “OK, Daddy. Ten minutes.”

Given a choice, the preschooler didn’t argue with Daddy ─ Denver resident Allen Fears ─ when he reminded her 10 minutes later that the pair had made a deal. Another tantrum was averted, and Fears owed it to his decision to seek help.

Fears hired a parenting coach to guide him through the rocky times about a year ago, when going through a divorce. Like other rising forms of coaching (life coaching; business coaching), parent coaching is catching on, catering to everyone from brand-new parents to those maneuvering through the teenage years.

The need

“We were working on custody at the time,” said Fears, referring to his divorce proceedings with his ex-wife. “I knew that no matter where things ended up, I wasn’t going to be with my daughter seven days a week anymore. I wanted to make sure the time I had with her was quality time, and I wanted to be the best parent I could be.”

Many parents are turning to parent coaches ─ who often follow a model of coaching over the telephone for their time-strapped clients ─ whether it’s in a panic (my toddler won’t stop hitting his baby sister) or a more thought-out reason, as in Fears’ case. Regardless of the magnitude of the issue, parenting doesn’t come with a guidebook, and parents can use help, said Fears’ coach, Kerry Stutzman of Denver. “They just need someone to answer their questions when they don’t know what to do, and they don’t want to mess up their kids,” said Stutzman, who uses the Love and Logic approach.

Sleeping problems. Toilet training. Tantrum throwing. Those are all issues driving parents to coaching, said Caron Goode, director of the Academy for Coaching Parents International. “A lot of it is in the early years, and the first-time parents. When I started training (2005), you couldn’t find 10 parent coaches online. Now, I pulled in 398 websites from LinkedIn alone.”

The strategies

Parent coaching focuses more on efficient problem-solving. “My model is very short-term,” said Lorna Benton, a Boulder parenting coach. “We set goals, and usually within eight to 12 weeks, sometimes less, we meet those goals.” But the way coaches teach parents to solve the immediate problem leads to more skilled parenting over time, while boosting communication and compassion.

“Ohhh, my heart sings when parents come back to me and say: Wow, I didn’t yell at my kids all week,” Stutzman said. “It brings tears to my eyes.” Stutzman began by helping Fears, a Chief Financial Officer who worked for years with the Denver Broncos, to understand his daughter better. “My entire career, I’ve supervised and managed people, but the way you manage a 4-year-old child is a lot different than the way you manage a 40-year-old accounting executive,” Fears said.

By teaching Fears strategies for overcoming behavior issues (e.g. the zoo tantrum-saving technique), Stutzman also teaches him how to provide life lessons for Haley, such as decision-making and realizing choices can come with consequences. As an example, Stutzman used the common problem of children refusing to pick up their toys.

“One parent might yell at them and get mad at their kids. Or a parent might just cover for them and pick up themselves.” A better option: hide the toys in a plastic bin (otherwise known as “toy jail”) for a while, Stutzman said. Then when Junior starts missing his favorite truck and wants it back? He has to buy it from Mom or Dad for 20 cents. “In the grown-up world, I can clean my house myself or pay someone to do it. They get to see how the real world works, and I don’t have to threaten them.”

The wins

For parents, making that transition from the infant years, when their job is simply to keep baby happy, to the more tough-love strategies of parenting can be hard. But if they continue to focus on just keeping their kids happy, they rob them of the chance of learning life lessons, Stutzman said.

And the bonus of collecting toy bond money? Save it, and buy a latte later, she said. That way, no matter what happens, the parents are happy, something most parenting coaches would agree is critical. “If you take good care of yourself, you will be more capable of taking care of your family,” Benton said.

Parents also need to overcome the stigma that asking for help signifies failure as a parent. Today’s parents need more help than ever, Benton said. “We used to live in so much more of a social community, where we had extended family to help. Part of parent coaching is just validating that you aren’t a failure, and you aren’t alone.”

As for Fears? He still calls Stutzman routinely, and her phone number will stay tucked in his wallet for years to come, as he doesn’t hesitate to admit he will need Stutzman’s help, even into the teenage years. “I hate to say it, but I think I’ll need her more then than I do now.”

Choosing a coach

  • Meet with more than one coach and discuss scenarios to see if their techniques are compatible with your values. Coaches use different parenting models.
  • Note whether the coach plans to stay in the area throughout your parenting years.
  • Weigh the importance of a professional degree, as trained therapists might have more insight into child behavior issues.
  • Decide the importance of having a coach who is also a parent, as they can offer real-life perspective.

The cost factor

Rates for degreed parent coaches in Colorado can exceed $100 an hour. Although many clients say it’s worth the investment, there are other options for those who cannot afford the price-tag.

  • Read books, listen to tapes, download podcasts, sign up for free parenting newsletters and use the free resource of the internet. Most coaches offer valuable parenting tips online (www.kerrystutzman.com; www.dynamicparentcoaching.com; www.academyforcoachingparents.com).
  • Take parenting classes from coaches, where you learn from coaches and other parents for much less (maybe $20 an hour). Even more affordable classes might be offered through your birthing hospital.

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