What is Parenting Counseling?
At the simplest level, parenting counseling, also referred to as parenting therapy, is just “help with your child.” This form of therapy is not only short-term, it can also include all loved ones, you and your spouse, you and your child, or just you. Each treatment plan is specific to the situation. It doesn’t matter if the conflict lies between you and your child, or if it has to do with family trauma or child-related developmental, physical, or mental health problems; counseling sessions can provide you with the support and resources you need to be the best parent possible.
During parenting counseling, you learn the tools needed to function optimally within your family unit. More specifically, parenting counselors provide you with the guidance and support you need to provide a stable and healthy childhood experience for your child. The truth is, people tend to assume that parenting is just comes naturally, when for most it doesn’t.
The truth is having children and understanding how to parent are two totally different things. And, even if you have a good understanding of what it takes to be a good parent, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can avoid the challenges that often accompany it. To be honest, there is no such thing as a “perfect parent.” It’s a myth like a unicorn or dragon.
We all make mistakes, which is why parenting counseling may be the best decision you’ll ever make. This type of counseling addresses a multitude of issues, ranging from postpartum depression to domestic violence. Therefore, engaging in parenting counseling can be extremely beneficial – not only for yourself, but for your children and your partner.
What is Considered a Good Parent?
The truth is there is no shame in seeking parenting counseling. And, if you decide to do so, it doesn’t mean you are a “bad parent.” The decision to work with a parenting counselor just means that you are brave enough to ask for help. In fact, turning to a parenting counselor is the first step in providing your children with stability, while acquiring the support you need to be the best parent you can be. Honestly, one of the best ways to be a “good parent” is to simply love your children unconditionally.
According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the main responsibilities of a parent include the following:
- To foster your child’s medical and development needs
- To protect your child from harm
- To spend quality time with your child
- To actively listen to your child
- To set limits for your child
- To guide your child and provide structure to his/her life
- To provide stability and consistency
- To supervise your child’s relationships and friendships
How Do I Know If Need Parenting Counseling?
As mentioned above, parenting can be tough, and it can trigger or worsen your stress level – even if you are an easy going calm adult. Tension, stress, and strain, when combined with a lack of sleep and poor lifestyle choices, can lead to parenting issues. But, it is important to understand that not every parent needs parenting counseling.
No, if you have a strong support system and people you can turn to for help, you probably don’t need this form of therapy – although you could. On the other hand, if you are experiencing a high level of stress (i.e. postpartum depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.) that is interfering with your ability to be the best parent you can be, it may be time to seek professional help.
What are Some Common Parenting Issues?
Every family has its own unique problems, however, some issues are common to most, if not all, parents.
The most common issues that parents face are:
- Financial problems
- Childcare arrangements
- Marital problems
- Death in the family
- Children, who are having problems in school – i.e. with peers, learning, etc.
- Relocation to a new home, family, state, and/or school
What are Some Lesser Known Problems that Can Lead to Parenting Issues?
Some issues are less universal, but can still affect your ability to successfully parent your child.
These issues include:
- The loss of a job
- A loved one with a serious and/or chronic health condition, illness, disability, or injury
- An adoption, especially of an older foster child
- A mental illness diagnosis
In the face of stress, it is common to adopt a variety of unhealthy coping mechanisms that only worsen the situation. And to top it off, it can be hard to know when things are about to get out-of-control or when they are already out-of-control. In fact, it’s normally family and friends, who recommend parenting counseling – not the person in need of it.
The best thing you can do is to seek counseling for yourself, your spouse, and your child, when there is a significant change in your family. Why? Well, because unexpected and “out of your control” events can disrupt and/or alter your family structure, leading to angst and/or behavioral issues. In this case, you may need to hire a professional – counselor or therapist – to help you better manage your uncontrollable anger, depression, chronic worry, anxiety, and/or irritability.
In addition, symptoms like uncontrollable crying, chronic anxiety, moodswings, manic episodes, and/or depression are causes of concern. You may also need to seek counseling, if you and/or your child has experienced trauma or the loss of a loved one, friend, pet, or home.
Furthermore, if you are a domestic violence, rape, or abuse survivor, it may be beneficial for you to seek parenting counseling. Why? So your children do feel the impact of your past trauma. Lastly, it is important to note that you could be ordered to attend parenting counseling. This decision is usually made by a juvenile court judge. In this scenario, the judge deems that you need to improve your parenting skills.
What are the Primary Goals of Parenting Counseling?
Children tend to adopt the views, beliefs, and behaviors of their parents. In other words, as a parent, you are your child’s first teacher. He/she looks to you to see what’s appropriate behavior and what is not. You may not realize it, but your child is always watching and listening to you – how you respond to situations and what you say in them. So, because children mimic their parents’ behaviors, it’s imperative that you always model healthy behaviors in front of your child.
Truth-be-told, always modeling positive behaviors is not an easy feat, especially when you are faced with adversity, stress, and boundless challenges. But, even under ideal circumstances, you are still human, and thus, bound to make mistakes. That is normal. Remember this, you won’t “ruin” your child, if you make mistakes. Rather, use your mistakes as “teachable moments.” In other words, teach your child that it’s ok to mess up from time-to-time, and it’s ok to ask for help when one needs it.
What Happens During a Parenting Counseling Session?
Well, during a parent counseling session, you and your counselor set specific goals for you to accomplish. These goals depend on your specific situation. However, a common goal for many parents is being able to address and resolve “adult problems” in a healthy way, so their children are not negatively impacted by them. Keep in mind that to improve your ability to effectively “deal” with stressors, anxiety, and difficult situations, you must first admit that there is indeed a problem. It is important not to skip past this stage. The truth is, seeking counseling takes courage. It also puts you one step closer to finding a realistic solution to your problems.
During the initial counseling session, your parenting counselor will spend time “getting to know you” and “breaking the ice.” Then, he/she will ask you why you decided to seek counseling. Next, you and your counselor will talk about what you’d like to see accomplished from counseling, while helping you set realistic goals, so you can achieve your desired outcome.
Subsequent sessions will work towards achieving your goals, improving communication, and strengthening your conflict-resolution skills. Sessions may include just you or it may include the whole family. Moreover, your counselor may want to see you alone for some sessions and your whole family for some sessions. You will be giving parenting exercises to complete and you will share your experiences during sessions.
What Techniques are Normally Used During Parenting Counseling?
Parenting counselors use a variety of techniques during counseling sessions, however, these techniques depend on your situation. For instance, if your situation involves anxiety and/or depression, your counselor may use “talk therapy,” reframing, roleplay, and/or communication exercises to help you better manage these conditions.
On the other hand, conditions like postpartum depression, may require an entirely different approach. In this case, a counselor may encourage individual counseling and/or group therapy for support. And, when post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is evident, a counselor may use a controlled session format that includes “talk therapy,” a cognitive-behavior therapy approach, and coping techniques to help you cope with the flashbacks and trauma.
Ultimately, the type of counseling techniques used largely depends on what is best for you and your individual family. The good news is that parenting counselors typically have a large toolbox, so you get the tools you need to be a successful parent. But, if you need more advanced help, a parenting counselor may refer you to a family therapist or family psychologist.
In cases of postpartum depression and PTSD, a parenting counselor may refer you to a family or clinical psychiatrist, who can prescribe psychotropic medications that reduce your symptoms. These medications are not cures, rather the goal of them is to stabilize you, so you can get all you can out of the sessions.
What is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is used to treat a variety of personal and parenting issues, such as:
- Sexual disorders – i.e. erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, etc.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Eating disorders – i.e. anxiety, bulimia, etc.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
What Can I Learn from Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists?
Cognitive-behavioral therapists can teach you practical strategies that will help you better “deal” with challenging parenting situations. More specifically, these therapists teach you how to properly identify negative and destructive thought patterns, so you can replace them with healthier ones. This may mean you learn how to be less critical of your parenting skills and more accepting of the fact that you are doing your best.
What Should I Look for in a Parenting Counselor?
Well, comfort and accountability are two things you should look for in a parenting counselor. The truth is, it’s not uncommon for parents to be ashamed of seeking therapy, so it’s imperative you choose someone that makes you feel comfortable.
You may want to look for a marriage and family therapist because he/she can address a broad range of marital, family, and parenting issues. But, you can also receive help from a couples counselor, clinical social worker, or family psychologist. Keep in mind that counseling sessions are more successful, when your counselor is also a parent.
Why? Because he/she has most likely experienced some of the same issues you’re having – although this should not be a requirement for a counselor. What matters most is your comfort level, along with your child’s comfort level and your partner’s comfort level – especially if they will be attending sessions with you.
How Will I Know If I’ve Found the Right Counselor for Me and My Family?
You’ll know once you do your research. First, however, you’ll need to research potential counselors. Once you have narrowed down your list, you’ll need to schedule consultations with each one of them. Once you have talked with various counselor, you’ll get a sense of which one is best for you and your family (i.e. shared values, good communication, comfortable, etc.). I can’t stress this enough – it’s important to meet with a variety of possible counselors before you make your final selection.
What Should I Take with Me to a Consultation with a Potential Counselor?
Take a list of questions with you, so you can ensure that you all of your questions have been answered and you have all you need to make an informed decision about your future counselor.
Important things you should ask a prospective parenting counselor include:
- Do you have experience working with children and families?
- What therapy approaches, techniques, and methods do you use during sessions?
- What is your speciality?
- How long have you been practicing?
- Do you have any references I can look at or any former clients I can speak to?
- What should I expect from our sessions?
- Will you also require sessions with my children and partner?
- How many sessions do you recommend for dealing with my particular issue(s)?
- What is your experience dealing with my specific problem or parenting challenge?
Note: It’s not unreasonable to check credentials or references before you make your selection, especially if your child will be attending sessions with you. Interview potential counselors the same way you would interview a prospective babysitter. This is the best way to determine if you will be comfortable with a particular counselor.
How Can I Find a Good Parenting Counselor?
Parenting counselors have dual responsibilities. What does that mean? Well, it means that even though they are there to provide support and guidance for you, they also have to look out for your child’s safety and wellbeing. As a result, your parenting counselor may recommend courses of action that are in the best interest of your child – even if you disagree.
For instance, if there is violence in the home or your child is living in an unsafe environment, your counselor may insist that a Child Protective Services social worker make a home visit. Keep in mind that this is not a personal attack, rather, it’s for a child’s health and well-being. The good news, however, is that you can find a parenting counselor in your area simply by going to the TherapyTribe directory.
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- National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2019). Parenting. Retrieved from https://healthfinder.gov/HealthTopics/Category/parenting