Encouraging improved behaviors Parent Coaching

Parent coaching is a short-term intervention that provides foster, adoptive, and kinship parents and other caregivers with hands-on, here-and-now tools for bringing about rapid and dramatic improvement in their child’s behavior.

Using a strategy customized to each family, coaches work with caregivers, in the absence of the child, to teach methods and tools that promote attachment and self-esteem while feeding the development of even more positive behaviors. Caregivers can strengthen bonds while teaching children new and effective ways of interacting with their world.

Present Moment Parenting

Parent coaching is a customized-to-your-family opportunity to understand your intense child’s behavior and learn what to do to help it improve dramatically. You’ll learn Present Moment Parenting with the support of a coach who will not pass judgment on you but will stand by you as you gain new skills. There’s no diagnosis from your coach, just solid, usable tools for bringing out the best in your intense child. How do we define “intense”? If you have a child with whom typical parenting methods don’t help and even make the situation worse, you’ve come to the right spot.

What type of needs do the kids have?

Our parent coaching clients have children of all ages who have ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, giftedness, adoption or foster care issues, and even those with no diagnosis at all.

For children whose lives involve the child welfare system, particular attention is paid to helping parents navigate their sometimes overwhelming grief and loss.

The aim of “trauma-informed parent coaching” at Anu is to educate parents on specific relationships between unwanted behavior and deep, enormous unexpressed feelings. Once those relationships are understood, parents will learn how to approach the child in a way that heals them rather than re-traumatizes them. It’s remarkably easy to re-traumatize a child who has suffered physical or sexual abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment. The more parents understand that typical parenting techniques fuel the fire of unexpressed grief and rage, the more they can bring out the best in these children.

Biological, adoptive, foster, and kinship parents are in the perfect position to undo some of the damage inflicted on the children in their homes. They care the most about the children, they are with them the most, and they have the most invested in their well-being. Equipped with insight into the effects of trauma on the child’s body and the equally positive effects of nurturing communication on the same child’s body, parents and caregivers can immediately see results.

When children’s behavior is not only under control but indicative of a child’s sense of self in healing mode, they can stay put. They avoid the defaulting judge, blame, and punish cycle that creates havoc in their lives and causes them to overreact to what parents think is normal parenting. The result is a peaceful, permanent home.

What about the parents’ past issues?

Will parents raising children who have been traumatized sometimes start to get in touch with the traumas they experienced as children?

It does happen. Parent coaching is not therapy, and our coaches will refer parents to appropriate services, such as psychotherapy and EMDR, even biofeedback, to learn ways to heal their own trauma. In the meantime, our coaches support the parents in interacting with their kids in the present moment, where all healing takes place. This two-pronged approach of parents receiving the help they need for their past upsets while supporting their parenting is a powerful combination. Both processes can occur simultaneously.

Children who have been traumatized don’t have months to wait for their parents to heal their childhoods. That’s why parent coaches are available by phone, email, and Skype to provide weekly or bi-weekly encouragement on changing their interactions with the kids. We even have between-appointment trouble calls, where parents are free to call their coaches for on-the-spot support. When a mom or dad is about to lose it with their child, they can get help on the phone instead of yelling. This is the intensive support needed for creating positive behavior and strong family relationships with the outcome of permanence for children.

To make a referral, call 1.877.287.2441, or complete a referral form.

Listen to what county social workers are saying about parent coaching:

  • “Parent coaching is the most effective service we have to offer our kids.”
  • “All your providers are fantastic!”
  • “I continue to send referrals to you guys as often as possible.”
  • “I refer all my clients to Parent Coaching!”
  • “Mom remains completely calm now and has told the worker that coaching “is the reason I can handle this”
  • “The coach not only works well with the client, but she educated the team also, allowing the team to understand what she was doing and to help support and encourage the client.”
  • “She connects well with the family and is very creative in her approach as well as suggestions for the family to try. An asset to the team.”
  • “I love working with her! The only suggestion is to have a parent coach work with service facilitators [case managers] too!”
  • “The coach was awesome, and the family is communicating very well now with her help. A huge improvement from before she was involved.”
  • “[Coaching] has been a valuable resource for our foster families, and he has a special ability to connect with families and children in a non-threatening strength-based approach.”
  • “The Parent Coach is compassionate; he boosts up the family; he gives them practical and realistic ideas. The parents are moving closer to adopting the child.”
  • “The families feel very welcome and don’t feel judged. [The Coach] is very strengths-based.”
  • “[Parent Coaching] allowed the foster mother to gain more confidence, and this was reflected in her parenting approach.”
  • “The family had nothing but great things to say about [the Coach]. They were at a place where they were considering giving up the placement of their grandchildren, and after working with him, they say that they will never consider that.”

Frequently Asked Questions: 

What is Parent Coaching?

Parent Coaching involves a strengths-based approach to teaching parenting, giving clear, explicit directives to parents and caregivers, and designed to improve challenging behaviors in children and youth. The service is much like a sports coach who tells a player what to do to improve performance. It is not therapy, and the coach does not spend much time discussing the past; rather, coaching is focused on why the child is behaving this way in the present moment, and what current specific actions are needed by the caregiver/parent to alter or nourish the child’s behavioral response. 

This coaching is delivered only to the parents, not directly to the youth or in the presence of the youth. This is so the child doesn’t have the experience of “yet another grown-up/professional” needed to come in and help because “I’m so bad;” it does not disempower parents by correcting them in the presence of the child; it strengthens the relational bond between caregiver and child; and it puts the healing where it belongs: in the hands of the caregivers/parents.

What is the “Theory of Change” for Parent Coaching?

The Theory of Change for Parent Coaching is based on the premise that communication with children affects brain development and neural pathways. Therefore, when parents give attention and energy to desired behaviors, the neural pathways for those desired responses are strengthened. In contrast, when little reaction or attention is given to undesirable behaviors, the neural pathways to those behaviors are not utilized and are pruned away.

In addition, when parents feel supported and nurtured, they can do the same for their children. It is a reciprocal healing process: when parents download messages of heartfelt appreciation to their children, the appreciation is mirrored through the children’s expressions of love, affirmation, compliance, and affection. The service helps strengthen and heal the parent-child bond: benefiting both parent and child.

Who Are the Intended Recipients and Beneficiaries of Parent Coaching

Our coaches serve all parents who have the mental capacity to grasp these concepts and the desire to put them into practice. Parent Coaching is effective for foster parents, treatment foster parents, adoptive parents, kinship parents, teachers, child care providers, school social workers, residential and group home staff, and any parents or caregivers struggling with a child’s challenging behaviors. If a grandfather and mother are raising the children, they come to the sessions. If a teacher or nanny wants to be involved, it’s highly encouraged. 

How is Parent Coaching Paid For?

Many non-child welfare involved families pay privately for Parent Coaching services. For system-involved parents, the county of residence pays for these services out of county revenue sources. Parent Coaching is not typically a medical-model or Medicaid eligible service; however, some WI counties have identified Comprehensive Community Services (CCS) as a funding source for Parent Coaching. In addition, Children’s Long-Term Support Waiver funding is being used for this service.

What are the Coaches’ Qualifications?

Coaches have a minimum of a four-year degree in a child-related field, and many have master’s degrees. All coaches go on to complete an extensive certification process to become Certified Parent Coaches; however, coaches do not always come from a social work field and may include expertise in psychology, education, and other related fields. All coaches are supervised by a master’s level supervisor.

What are the Typical Frequency and Duration of Service for Parent Coaching?

Parent Coaches generally meet with clients weekly or bi-monthly, and the focus is for the coach to meet the client where they are emotionally and cognitively, which in part, determines the duration of the service.  Capacity for learning varies by parent, and some of the influencing factors include whether their basic needs are met, their own mental health, the effectiveness of their current self-care strategies, and their connection to a larger natural support system.  Some clients’ coaching needs are met within 4-6 sessions, and others may require 12+ months.

What Model of Parenting Does Anu Use?

Anu Family Services uses the trauma-informed "Present Moment Parenting" (PMP) to create radical change in children with challenging behaviors. This model is based on gratitude and compassion, and is written out in Present Moment Parenting: The Guide to a Peaceful Life with Your Intense Child (2017) by Tina Feigal, M.S. Ed.  Tina Feigal is the Director of Family Engagement and a Parent Coach at Anu Family Services.

What is the Parent Coaching Service Delivery Model?

As our coaching sessions generally only involve the parents, this approach succeeds because it prevents parents from being “outed” in front of their children. It helps maintain authority in the family as the coach supports the parents from behind the scenes. Coaches give techniques that work and follow through with a minimum of four sessions to assure success. Parents are empowered in the healing their family experiences. After (sometimes) years of being held responsible for their children’s negative behavior, they are now “held responsible” for the successes. This can also positively change the dynamics with extended families, a factor that often gets overlooked, but is vital to the emotional health of families. 

What is the Evidence Base for Parent Coaching?

A significant amount of research, evidence, and practices inform Parent Coaching. "Present Moment Parenting" encourages parents to reduce negative behavior by giving attention to desired behaviors, rather than unwanted behaviors. This theory was presented in the early 1800s by Alfred Adler, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud. More recently, it has been researched by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson in her book, Positivity (2009). Dr. Fredrickson’s studies revealed behavior improves at a much faster rate, and with more consistency, with positive input than with negative correction. For most parents, this requires a complete change of emphasis, for which having support over time from their coach is extremely helpful.

The survival imperative drives children's behavior. All behavior is communication: saying, “I must survive,” physically, emotionally or both. When parents see behavior through the lens of the child’s inner need for survival, they can let go of the need for judgment, blame, and punishment. This frees them to work with the present moment to assure the child of his or her safety, and therefore, survival. 

From the work of Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, we learned the past is over: we cannot go back and make it different. The future is not yet here; we cannot jump ahead to be in it. Everything happens in the present moment. Acting on this truth can facilitate the healing needed between parent and child. Focusing on the here and now is the most effective way to bring out the best behavior and strengthen the parent-child bond. When parents acknowledge children's need to feel safe and address children from this knowing, children feel seen, and survival feels assured. The following behavior reflects the child's felt safety, and the relationship with the parent is perceived as a safe haven. The child is then free to grow and develop in “fertile soil.”

"Present Moment Parenting" also taps the ideas of Dr. Daniel Siegel, whose research chronicled in The Mindful Brain (2010) and Parenting from the Inside Out (2013), reveals that children’s bodies react to emotional input from others. Therefore, being mindful of the physiological effects of communication between parent and child empowers parents to obtain the results they want. We emphasize strengthening heart-to-brain neural pathways for the child’s positive behaviors by repetition of positive input. The work of the Institute of Heartmath® supports this aspect of PMP, showing the heart has its own neural pathway system, communicating emotional information to the brain. Parents are taught to give positive input to children, strengthening these neural pathways for good behavior. They are thereby actually changing the physiology of their children. Further research on this topic contributes to PMP through the work of Paul Pearsall, Ph.D., whose book, The Heart’s Code: Tapping the Wisdom and Power of Our Heart’s Journey (1999), describes the effects of heart-to-brain communication.

Heather Forbes’ ideas have also contributed to the work of PMP with her work, Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control (2006). Especially applicable to children who have experienced trauma, this work illustrates the value of eliminating the emphasis on specific negative behaviors; and focuses on the inner state of the child that prompts the behavior. So rather than seeing aggression that needs to “stop right now,” parents are encouraged to explore the inner state of the child to help the child “feel felt.” This is now known to be much more effective than trying to control behavior with threats and punishment.  Trauma-informed parenting, where parents approach children from the perspective of “what happened to you?” rather than “what’s wrong with you?” gets to the heart of behavior change much more effectively than traditional parenting methods. 

"Present Moment Parenting" is proving highly effective in work with children who have experienced trauma. As it de-emphasizes the “behavior-as-bad” approach and focuses on “behavior-as-communication,” parents are empowered to address the underlying message of the behavior, rather than the behavioral symptoms of grief, loss, and trauma. When parents are equipped with alternative ways to respond to children, hope is strengthened, and permanence in the home is perceived as possible. 

What Makes Parent Coaching Successful?

The evidence-based methods used are not “parenting classes.” Rather, specific guidance is provided to each parent to help them deal with their specific child, given their unique strengths and challenges in the present moment. This kind of coaching and directive guidance is very successful with adult learners, including those with their own mental health issues and developmental challenges.

Does Parent Coaching affect children’s behavior even though the coaching is done only with the parents?


Parent Coaching teaches parents ways to show love and understanding to their children.  When children feel heard, seen, and understood, their pain-based behaviors DECREASE! They don’t need to move from home to home.

Is There Any Evaluation of These Services?

To evaluate the effects of coaching on child behavior and parental sense of competency and connectedness, we conduct pre- and post-surveys with parents before parent coaching begins, and after four coaching sessions. Just as important, the survey queries parents on improvements in the relationship between parent and child and on parents’ sense of themselves as parents. Although the surveys are for purposes of program evaluation, and not peer-reviewed instruments, they are helpful in observing the positive effects of coaching. As shown in the survey results, while parent coaching can't eliminate behaviors, every behavior parents noted at the beginning of coaching was significantly reduced in frequency by the end of parent coaching. Not only that, but parents reported children getting along with friends more often, being more willing to cooperate and getting into trouble less frequently. Parents reported having more positive interactions with children, having more understanding and compassion for children, being more relaxed around their children and being less angry. Also according to the survey, parents are extremely satisfied with the parent coaching process and results. Parents feel more confident with parenting and are appreciative of their coaches.

Over the course of Parent Coaching, 100% of the child’s behaviors, attributes, and relationships improved!

Parents see their child as more loving after they received Parent Coaching (67.7% improvement)!  Parents do a better job connecting with their children when they see their children as more loving.

Parent Coaching supports permanence for children at risk of being removed from home:

95% of children who are in their parent’s home when Parent Coaching begins are in their parent’s home when the service ends.