What is Parent Coaching?

This article first appeared in the Expectant Mother’s Guide to  St. Louis, 2009, Volume 1.

People have been having babies and raising children for thousands of years. For most of that time, parents have had the close, daily support of grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings. These extended family members provided invaluable advice and nurture for every aspect of parenting – breastfeeding, calming a baby, keeping a toddler safe, etc. Becoming a parent was part of the natural rhythm of the family’s life.

In modern society, many young families are often isolated, without exposure to this accumulated parenting wisdom and supportive role models. They have had little, if any, preparation for this most important life role of nurturing the healthy growth of a child into an adult.

A bewildering variety of parenting books, videos and web sites try to take the place of person-to-person advice and modeling from a trusted relative. Often, these materials provide conflicting advice. It is no wonder that many expecting and new parents are stressed and unsure about their instincts and their skills. They want to create the baby of their dreams, but they don’t know how or where to start.

Busy obstetricians rarely talk about the nuts and bolts of early parenting. Teaching parenting skills is not part of their job description. Childbirth classes often do not address parenting topics in much depth. Also, many pediatricians concentrate on the baby’s immediate health needs and don’t have the time to help parents with parenting issues.

More and more expecting couples and new mothers are turning to trained parent coaches to help them navigate through the transition to motherhood and to give their babies the best possible start in life. A parent coach can provide personal support and encouragement to meet both the mother’s and the baby’s needs, starting in utero. A woman’s identity and life change forever as she assumes added responsibilities that demand new knowledge, feelings actions and reactions. Research has shown that a mother has to be born psychologically as much as the baby is born physically. When a woman feels emotionally supported by her partner, family and friends, then she is able to create bonds of love and attachment that allow her child to feel emotionally secure.

There is no single map for this important transformational journey. Every family is different. A parent coach first gets to know the individual needs of the parents and the child and can then help the parents find the positive approaches that will work best for them and their baby. The primary goal of coaching in this critical period is to help expecting and new parents embody a deeper state of conscious loving connection to self, child and family. A trained coach can empower the parents, answer questions, and show practical way to care for and express love to their baby. Specific coaching issues include how to calm the baby, work with eating and sleep issues, encourage optimal social, emotional and intellectual development and build bonding and attachment. The right parent coach can do even more….

Modern science is learning the secrets of life in the womb and healthy development of the baby’s brain and nervous system. This is a marvelous new world of discoveries that point to effective approaches to raising securely attached, emotionally responsive, bright and happy children. There have been major strides in the theory and practice of prenatal and perinatal psychology, the science of pregnancy, evidence-based parenting practices and neuroscience. But most parents and caregivers have not yet been exposed to this groundbreaking knowledge. A good parent coach can help bring together both the ancient art and modern science of parenting into individualized, down-to-earth practices that can work for each family. The goal is for each child to receive the gift of optimal development which supports lifelong health and learning.

How does parent coaching work?

It is best to start preparing as early as possible. The expecting mother is the template for the developing child’s body, mind and spirit. The sooner that the mother is paying attention to her own health, nutrition, emotional well-being and stress levels, the better able she is to create the best womb environment for her baby. It is important to think about how you realistically want to parent before the baby arrives. Before the baby is born, a coach can address fertility issues, conscious conception, health and wholeness assessment, partnership needs, and the development of a birthing plan. This is best time for parents to begin to consider which style of parenting will work best for them. For example, attachment parenting requires a certain mindset and behaviors that are different from more traditional approaches. Having flexible birthing and parenting plans usually is the first step to parenting success. A coach can also provide education on newborn, infant and toddler care, bonding, development and sibling adjustment.

There are many ways to work with a parent coach. It’s a good idea to have an initial telephone consultation to make sure you and the coach are compatible and can work well together. After that, various arrangements can be effective. Most people follow a combination of office sessions, home visits and telephone or e-mail conversations. One of the most valuable services is to have the coach visit your home, observe your interaction, and show you ideas on how to care for, talk to, and play with your baby. The coach can provide educational resources, tell you what to expect at each developmental stage and help you work through difficult challenges. This kind of relationship serves to guide the early formative years which are the foundation for brain enrichment and lifelong learning.

With the added complexities of work outside of the home, raising children today is more demanding and stressful than ever before Expecting parents receive many baby clothes, swings, toys, monitors, and other items as shower gifts. However, there is no better gift than learning the art and science of early parenting. Coaching is an investment that can help parents build their confidence and be prepared to enjoy their wondrous baby.

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