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Dial a Coach for Parenting Advice

Having trouble honing your parenting skills? Some parents in the same boat consult a parenting coach.

Following the Family Mission Statement

Kelly Ann Bonnell, MS, a parent coach and founder of "My Parent Coach" in Phoenix, has been coaching parents for three years; she was a professional parent educator and teacher trainer for a decade. She does much of her coaching via instant messaging on the computer and most of her clients are "generation Xers."

"They are a group of parents coming into parenthood from an era heavy in divorce, with lots of latch key children and not a lot of role models," she says.

"[Gen Xers] are wanting a new model, but not the ultra-strict model that their parents had, yet not as liberal as their parents, so that leaves them in the middle with no source of support," she tells WebMD.

"The first thing that we do is start with who they are as parents and help them discover what they will not compromise on," she says. "They pick three values that are uncompromising to them as parents."

Here's how it works in practice. Say it's a choice between Andrew, 8, cleaning his room or doing homework. "In our family mission statement, lifelong learning is uncompromisable so doing his homework is more important than cleaning his room. However, I have clients that say cleanliness and organization is the No. 1 issue," she says.

She concedes that parent coaching does have its limits and is not for every family. "I am not a counselor and, if in my intake, I find that a family needs a counselor, I will find out what community they reside in and refer them to a family counselor," she says.

"Coaching is an industry that is very new and I believe that you have to be an educated consumer," she says. "You can't just walk in because someone says they are coach and assume that they have the qualifications out there."

When Coaching Should Be Counseling

Some child psychologists, including Steven Richfield, PsyD, of Plymouth Meeting, Penn., are inclined to agree with that statement.

"If you pick up a phone or email a parent coach, that person has never met your child and doesn't know what your child is going through, so the advice could aggravate the problem," he says. "It is a slippery slope, both ethically and professionally."

While not all parent coaches are bad or unqualified, he says the trend can be dangerous. "It's one thing to provide generic advice and another thing to offer specific counsel on serious emotional problems," says Richfield.

It can be hard to communicate the degree of distress a child is in over the phone or through email, he says.

"As a child psychologist, I will only provide advice when I work with a child. I don't feel like it's appropriate to offer advice without meeting the child," he says.

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