Should you hire a parenting coach?

Who are they? What do they do?  
And most of all… can they help?

Writer Samantha Ball shares her family’s experience with a parenting coach

My daughter was born with a strong personality. Mary, 6, is bold, sassy, funny, and very intelligent. However, the stronger her personality became over the years, the less effective of a parent I seemed to become. If she tested her boundaries, I extended them. If she demanded a new toy in a store, I bought it to avoid a scene. The opposite was true for my husband Jon, who tried to push back with tough love. Our differing parenting styles were failing us in our attempts to mesh them in raising this spirited girl.

To top it off, we now have a nearly two-year-old son, James, with his own needs. I know some of my “soft parenting” could be attributed to the guilt I felt that I couldn’t spend as much time with Mary anymore. For four years, it had been just the three of us.

Though our challenges with Mary were typical and could be expected for a child of her age and who now had to share her parents with a younger sibling, nothing we were doing seemed to resolve the issues. It was the same battles day after day.

As all of this was percolating in the back of my brain, I happened to see a Vlog on Facebook by Barrhaven’s Erica Fraser, creator of Mom Break, an online community for moms. In the video, she talked about the struggles she was experiencing with her 28-month-old daughter Aubrey, who was testing her limits and having tantrums. She and her husband Jordan hit a breaking point when Aubrey hit her pregnant mother. They hired parenting coach Sylvia Corzato from Success in Steps – Parent Support and Behaviour Consulting.

I immediately identified with Fraser and the challenges she was experiencing. I’d never heard of a parenting coach, but I felt like I was at the end of my rope. I needed help. I messaged Corzato right away.

According to Corzato, this is the point where she sees most of her clients reach out to her. They have exhausted whatever resources are available to them and are truly ready for a change and are “ready to do the work.”

Generally speaking, a “parent coach” is an individual who can assist overwhelmed parents with their unique needs and challenges by providing parental support. However, interested parents should be careful to seek out those with relevant education and experience.

For her part, Corzato has a BA in Psychology, focusing on child development, and a BA in Sociology, focusing on non-verbal communication. As explained on her website, she holds certifications in ‘Coaching’ and ‘Counselling Children and Adolescents’ and has extensive training in Applied Behaviour Analysis and Intensive Behaviour Intervention.

Says Corzato: “I became a parent coach after working with children and families in different capacities for 17 years. For more than 14 years, I was a therapist working one-on-one with special needs children. I was able to achieve many milestones with these children because I had the education, training, experience and passion to do so. It brought me so much joy.”

“Unfortunately, I would hear from parents time and time again that they would attempt to achieve the same results with their children at home only to fail…This was heartbreaking for me to hear. It wasn’t until I became a parent myself (now to two kids) that I realized how much my profession had equipped me with so many wonderful tools, that allows me to enjoy what I call the best job in the world…being a parent.”

Jon and I had an initial “strategy call” with Corzato, where we discussed the issues we had been facing and determined which of her programs would best meet our needs – in our case the one-month package for early intervention was the “ideal package for your family to set us up for success with Mary,” according to Corzato.

Corzato came into our home in Stittsville on a weekly basis for a month. Corzato provided us with a variety of strategies that were customized to our own family’s goals.

After each session, Corzato provided us with an overview report via email of what we had discussed and reminders about the strategies to implement (this was a great reference tool). Before the next session, we were responsible for providing detailed feedback about implementing the strategies and when we experienced challenges. The information about what happened before, during and after an incident was key in determining patterns.

Through our descriptions of what we were experiencing, she was able to give us feedback on the ‘why’ behind Mary’s behaviour, and what we as parents were, however inadvertently, doing to maintain them. As Corzato says, “sometimes it’s hard for parents to pinpoint why it keeps happening.”

The difference between the strategies Corzato gave us and the different tips and tricks that I had read in previous parenting research was that I was able to implement these in a practical way. Corzato gave us specific tools for different scenarios that we were personally experiencing in our home, while working with our family’s strengths and needs. As she says of her customized approach, “I looked at what would be acceptable for you guys to maintain.”

Corzato warned us that “it could get worse before it gets better,” and very briefly it did. But as Mary adjusted to and accepted the new normal, we saw distinct improvements. Morning and bedtime routines were going more smoothly thanks to new visual schedules, we learned to set expectations with Mary ahead of time (no more meltdowns in stores!), and our partnership felt stronger than ever as we learned what, as individual parents, we could do to “meet in the middle” and grow as a parenting team.

As Jon says, “Sylvia immediately identified and alleviated issues we were having with compliance. Her experience was evident in the way she was able to help us improve our method of thinking and handling contentious situations. Her solid game plan is what we really needed to function as a team and the changes were virtually immediate. We needed her solid coaching and it has improved things immensely in our house.”

When our sessions ended, Corzato was quick to follow up to touch base on our status and progress. As she describes, following up with the families she works with is important to her. Knowing she’s only a phone call or email away is very reassuring as we move forward.

When I reached out to Erica Fraser for this article to talk about her experience, she said it was “the best decision we ever made.” Of Corzato, she personally appreciated her non-judgmental and compassionate approach, saying, “once you meet her, you instantly love her – she’s warm, brilliant and kind.”

Says Fraser of seeking out a parenting coach, “The best part…it gave us the tools, and confidence to deal with the situation. It assured us we were doing the right thing.”

This statement reflects my own experience. After receiving the support that I did through Corzato’s program, I noticed a major increase in my own confidence as a parent.

As Corzato explains, “The whole purpose of me working with a family is so they can confidently implement the strategies when I leave”.

For those considering a parenting coach, in my opinion, Corzato very accurately describes her services like this: “It’s an investment in a positive change in your family.

“As a parent coach, there is nothing more rewarding than to help parents spend less time on challenges and behaviours and more time enjoying their family,” she says.

Sylvia Corzato will have a booth on Saturday, April 21 at the Ottawa Parent and Child Expo.