Is parent coaching a con?


Did we have this parent coaching thing wrong all along?

I know this title will not gain me many friends in the parent coaching industry and yes, I know I have at times called myself a parent coach - I even trained as one - however that training was 17 years ago. I trained before anyone in the UK had even heard of the word parent coach. In that 17 years I have learnt a lot about parent coaching, about parenting and about me and I am becoming convinced that the parent coaching movement did nothing for disempowered parents anywhere.

Hear me out

Before you scream at me and wave your testimonials in my face, yes I have them too, please hear me out.  Parent coaching at its essence is an inspirational experience designed for parents who feel unconfident, a little distanced and a bit out of sorts with their children. It was really a confirmation and a cheerleader, so to speak. In this way it was very effective; parents who were doing a good job but wanted to be better, for that it was perfect. However, what happened to it – maybe partly my fault but I blame Supernanny, is that the media got hold of it. The media saw something new, fresh and media-friendly and jumped on it, making parent coaching the new thing, and I went along for the ride. I was new to this, naive maybe and at that time was convinced I was so successful because of the coaching experience, even though at that time I had very little.

I blame Supernanny

Looking back 17 years I can see that I was wrong and me, Supernanny and the countless parent coaches that came after me made some parents truly miserable.  Here is what I see as the problem. For some  the tools and techniques really worked but for those who had a challenging child, or more severe issues or a lack of intelligent understanding it fell on deaf ears, however we ploughed ahead anyway. Then came Supernanny; really as inexperienced as the rest of us at the time with her naughty step and the like, making parents feel yet again that if their child couldn’t sit on the naughty step without being put back countless times there was something wrong with them. These disempowered parents then reached for more and more coaching, believing they were the problem. More coaches came along to fill the gap, most of whose only qualification was that they had children themselves, and the cycle continued. The parents felt they were to blame, they sought help and often the help made them feel more useless.  It’s not that these coaches were wrong or bad, just that coaching was never supposed to rescue a situation, but support it. In my own TV show I was led to believe that the situations were mundane or run of the mill. They were anything of the sort and even made the ex-police officer in me feel not up to the job.  I remember once missing out on a TV show after I told the client that this particular issue could not be helped by coaching, however I knew another Parent Coach who would take it on.

Ego got in the way

Our own egos got in the way of what was good and right and we left some bloody good parents in our wake. Parents who were doing everything right but had a challenging child, parents who didn’t seek support for their children at an early age because they thought they were the problem and if only they listened more, understood more, did something different . These parents got left behind.  My only hope is that this fad has hit the high and all the parenting books disappear into an abyss (mine included).

We left lots of parents  dis-empowered

We left a lot of these parents more dis-empowered than empowered, we stopped most of them seeking help they so desperately needed and we sold then utopia, and we all know how that ended.

This is not to say we didn’t do good work; we did. This is not to say we didn’t help many families; we did, but we must stop looking at parent coaching as the answer because it isn’t. It is an answer that works some of the time and only in mild circumstances. It should be the first stop, not the last ditch, as is so often the case,

I started coaching when my children were 4 and newborn and I think my training really helped me find my way but, and it’s  a big but, what helped me the most was my police training and I can see that more clearly now than ever.  It was my ability to stay calm in a crisis, not get fazed one bit by conflict and only deal in the facts. The tone of my voice said, “Don’t mess with me”. That took me 6 months of police training and 10 years working with criminals to perfect. Had I known that then, maybe I would have taken my work in a different direction and maybe this would still make an appearance, who knows?  What I do know is that if I were to write a parenting book now, it would go something like this.

The last Parenting Book you will ever read.

You’ve got this.

And if you still don’t have this....... breath

  • Don’t take it personally

  • Don’t blame yourself

  • Don’t try to control your child in this moment

Go back and try again – you’ve got this.

And if you still don’t have talk it over with someone

And if you still don’t have it seek help....but remember you’ve got this.

Sarah's resources for parents