I enjoy a wide range of activities and interests, ranging from arts and crafts to martial arts. We wear many hats in life – being a student, teacher, child, teammate, co-worker, parent, etc. What happens when we wear a new hat in a different setting? It can be difficult for my parents to see me wearing a hat other than that of ‘youngest child’ even though I am an adult with knowledge and experience in many areas. Families we work with also experience these difficulties. Being a parent is one big responsibility, and being a therapist is another, but wearing both hats at once can feel challenging. Read on to hear more about parent coaching!
What Is Parent Coaching?
It goes without saying that parents are the experts on their child. Often, when I am starting with a new client, I refer to the parents to help me interpret what the child is communicating. Parents do not need training on how to parent.
My education and experiences are in the field ABA. When I sit down with parents for parent coaching, we are merging our two areas of experience. Parent coaching is the merging of ABA teaching and techniques, with the uniqueness of the child in the home environment.
Why Do Parent Coaching?
A child does not grow and learn in a vacuum. What is taught during therapy sessions, when done properly, should be generalized to other environments, situations, and people. With that being said, the family and home make up the primary environment for most learners.
Essentially our job is to work ourselves out of a job. Every new stage in life presents new challenges, but if families have the tools, they can adapt to most new situations.
Parent Coaching Reminders
Here are some helpful points to remember when coaching parents:
- Parents do not have the same education and training that we have.
- Use accessible language so parents understand what you mean – ditch the jargon!
- Refer to your Behavioral Skills Training notes when working with families.
- Meet parents where they are at!
Get our online Parent Resource here!
Meet Parents Where They Are At
What does it mean to meet parents where they are at? Some parents are brand new to a diagnosis and therapy, and can be overwhelmed by all the changes and information coming their way. Start small and keep it simple! Other parents have taken courses, participated in therapy sessions, and have used foundational ABA skills in the home. Build on their existing knowledge.
At the beginning, it is important to start with one small goal. It is easy to get carried away with this goal and that goal, and skill acquisition, and behavior reduction, and token economies, etc. Pick one goal and break down all the components into smaller teachable steps.
Just like juggling for beginners, too many balls in the air at once and we are guaranteed to drop them all. Following a BST approach, provide instruction on what is to be expected, model the appropriate response (it may also be important to model non-examples [‘this is an example of providing praise, this is not an example of providing praise’]), rehearse the steps with parents (taking turns with various outcomes), and provide feedback. Once the family is comfortable practicing and role playing with you, it is important to show them in vivo as well. Go through the BST steps with the child present, while coaching parents through the skills as they are working with their child, providing opportunities for you to model and work together to find a solution that works for the whole family.
Key Concepts to Mention in Parent Coaching
When working with parents, I would start with foundational skills such as reinforcement and motivation, before delving into more complex skills such as shaping, chaining, differential reinforcement, and data collection.
Behavior is communication. Children do well when they can – if they are having a challenging time, it is their way of communicating a need or skill deficit. This is where it is important to acknowledge the parent’s feelings as well. Although it is the child communicating a need, it is also hard and can be frustrating for the parents, and they are tired.
Parent coaching is not only about what is in it for the parent, but also what is in it for the child. Of course, parents want the child to clean up after themselves, but what’s in it for the child to put away their preferred toys? Incorporating fun routines (clean up songs and music), transitions to enjoyable activities, first-then contingencies, and identifying functional motivators are great ways to get child buy-in.
ABA is not only about reducing challenging behaviors, but also about skill acquisition. When a child engages in challenging behavior we must identify what that behavior is trying to communicate, and teach a functional replacement behavior. When it is time to clean up the toys but the child starts throwing items around the room and screaming, we need to consider what the child is trying to communicate. Teaching a replacement behavior such as requesting “one more minute” can reduce the stress for both the parent and the child.