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We all know children don’t come with instruction manuals, so who can moms and dads turn to help them navigate the unsupervised playground of parenting?

Beth Miller is a mother of three and a Certified Parent Coach who started her Wilmette practice five years ago. After a 20-year career working with families, first as a Special Education teacher and then as a Parent Counselor and Program Director for the Chicago based non-profit agency Tuesday’s Child, she was certainly up for the job.

While Miller found her former work very rewarding, she saw a need for her services in her own North Shore community. 

“I loved my work there and our mission, but I realized that ALL parents could benefit from support and education when it comes to parenting,” Miller says.

From changing family structures to the ever-present influences of media and the Internet, Miller says today’s parents face a myriad of challenges in raising emotionally healthy and happy children that their parents before them did not.

What is the single biggest parental gripe Miller hears?  “My kids don’t listen to me,” Miller says.

Enlisting the help of a parent coach may help parents who want to learn more positive and effective ways to communicate with their children, restore authority and discipline, and create a calmer family life at home.

That is what brought Kimberly Newman, a Wilmette mom, to her first parent coaching group seminar held at Trinity Church Nursery School, where two of her three young children attend.

“I’d felt like I was getting angry all the time, and didn’t want to communicate that way to my children,” Newman says.

Newman and her husband, Darryl, decided to sign up for a series of individual coaching sessions with Miller and appreciated her ability to meet in their home at times that accommodated their family’s busy schedule.

“Beth was a nice handlebar of support and it was so therapeutic to talk to her,” Newman says.

The Newmans say the parenting skills they learned through the coaching process didn’t come naturally to them, but with practice, they saw results right away.

“My son will get upset and instead of responding in kind with more anxiety, I stop, pause, listen and validate his feelings first,” Newman says. “Just listening and offering a hug allows him to work through it himself.”

Parents can receive coaching either by participating in small group workshops or by scheduling individual coaching sessions that can be done in the home or by phone. The financial and time commitment for coaching is less than that of traditional therapy, with a minimum of four sessions suggested.

Before hiring a parent coach, Miller suggests finding one who is certified through The Parent Coaching Institute (PCI), a graduate level program and originator of the parent coaching profession. PCI trains professionals to work “shoulder to shoulder” with parents, providing support and guidance as they co-create positive changes in their family life.

Miller admits that parent coaching is not for every family and differs from traditional family therapy.

“Coaching focuses on what is working in the current situation and builds on strengths,” Miller says. “It is not designed to delve into complicated family dynamics of the past or work through a crisis.”

Even if you’re not ready to hire a parent coach, here are Miller’s top three practices parents should implement right away to make improvements in their relationships with their kids:

1. Stop focusing on what your child is doing wrong. Instead, put your energy into encouraging good behaviors with positive attention.

2. Focus on your child’s effort rather than evaluating them on the outcome. Motivate them to continue their hard work through the use of descriptive praise.

3. Allow your child to wrestle with a problem. Practice listening as they talk through a frustration rather than admonishing them, jumping in to fix it or trying to make them feel better. Supporting your child through a challenge or even a failure builds independence, strength and resilience.