Parent coaches make big bucks helping moms and dads improve their kids' behavior. But you're in luck: We got them to give you their best advice -- for free.


What Are Child Behavior Coaches?

Endless tantrums. Rude back talk. Aggressive behavior. The gimmes. At some point you'll face a child-behavior problem that you just can't handle on your own. That's when you might head to the library to check out a few books on discipline. Or ask your best friend for some suggestions. Or, if you're really desperate, call your mom. But there's another option (and yeah, it's a pricey one): Hire a parent coach. Seriously.

It may sound crazy to pay a stranger $100 an hour or more for advice on getting your child to listen, go to bed, stop hitting his friends, and be a better eater. But that's exactly what a growing number of frustrated parents are doing. And a lot of them are happy with the results. Gerri Weiner, a mom from Manhattan Beach, California, credits her parent coach with teaching her to enforce rules without yelling at her 3-year-old son, Brandon. "She helped me regain control of my preschooler," Weiner says.

Do you really need to pay someone to help discipline your child, and would you get your money's worth? Judge for yourself. We asked four parent coaches how they'd solve some behavior issues that are common among young kids.

The CoachesCathy Cassani AdamsElmhurst, IllinoisRate: $80 per 60-minute phone session

Maureen O'Brien, PhDCanton, MassachusettsRate: $300 for two phone consultations and one in-home visit

Jennifer WolfGrandville, MichiganRate: $60 per 45-minute phone session

Kim-Tai DeMarsAtlanta, GeorgiaRate: $110 per 45-minute phone session

My kid refuses to go to bed.

Coach's Playbook

Cassani Adams: You might try telling your child that you'll come into her room up to three times, but after that she needs to go to sleep on her own. To reinforce the idea, tape three pieces of paper to her wall, and remove one each time she calls for you. Within a few nights, she'll start cooperating.

Dr. O'Brien: State firmly, "It's time for bed. Here are two books. Which one do you want Mommy to read before I turn out the light?" Don't ask open-ended questions, such as "Are you tired?" That invites negotiation.

Wolf: Be consistent with your child's routine. Give her a bath at the same time every night, and play, read, and cuddle in the same order. That should help prepare her for bedtime. And if it doesn't, try turning the TV off after dinner. Watching television may seem like a soothing activity, but it actually makes kids' brains more alert.

DeMars: If your child keeps getting up, calmly put him back to bed. Say something like, "You've got a playdate tomorrow, and if you get a good night's sleep, you'll have a lot more fun." If he's old enough, try to explain why sleep is so important: "When you get enough rest, your brain feels better, and it helps your body grow."

My kid gets "the gimmes" in stores.

Coach's Playbook

Cassani Adams: Talk to your child about the purpose of the shopping trip. If you're picking out a birthday present for a friend's party, explain before you enter the store that you're there to buy only one thing. And let him know how you expect him to behave.

Dr. O'Brien: Say something like, "No, we can't buy that toy. But you can put it on your birthday wish list, and maybe someone will get it for you." You might also suggest that your child start saving her allowance or earning money so she can buy it herself one day.

Wolf: If you want your child to be able to delay gratification and become aware of the value of money, practice saying "No" when he gets the gimmes. Once you stop giving in to his whining, he'll stop asking for things.

DeMars: State the rules before you go shopping: "If you keep asking to buy something, we're going to leave the store." Give your child one reminder, then leave if it continues. Avoid criticizing or scolding your child. You'll only have to do this once or twice before she stops behaving this way.

My kid talks back to me.

Coach's Playbook

Cassani Adams: Firmly and consistently let your child know that you will not communicate with her this way. Suggest that she take some time to calm down, or, if necessary, give her a time-out. Once she's settled down, work together to come up with a nicer way to talk.

Dr. O'Brien: Look your child in the eye and say, "We don't talk like that." Don't get angry or make it personal, or she may become too emotional to absorb the lesson.

Wolf: Remind her that she needs to share her thoughts and opinions in a respectful way. If the back talk doesn't stop, try taking away her favorite toy for a day.

DeMars: Say, "I don't like the way you just spoke to me. It's not okay to talk to people that way." Then walk away and let your child think about what she said.

My toddler has frequent temper tantrums.

Coach's Playbook

Cassani Adams: Accept that tantrums are a way for your child to release emotion and that they're a normal part of child development. Try to remain calm. If you show that they upset you, they'll only last longer and become louder.

Dr. O'Brien: Wait a minute or so to see whether your child calms down. She may just be trying to get attention. There's no need to jump in right away -- and doing so probably won't solve anything.

Wolf: In a firm but quiet voice, say, "No, we don't scream or throw ourselves on the ground." If your child doesn't calm down, walk away (unless you're in a public place). When he realizes you won't talk to him while he's behaving this way, he'll realize that tantrums don't work.

DeMars: Look at the big picture: Do your child's meltdowns always occur at a certain time of day? Try to figure out what's setting her off, and make adjustments. If she just needs a nap or a snack, it's not really a discipline issue.

My kids fight with each other 24/7.

Coach's Playbook

Cassani Adams: Encourage your children to settle disputes on their own. If they come to you, help them talk through their options. You can also offer suggestions, but let them work out the solution themselves so they learn from the experience.

Dr. O'Brien: Hold a family meeting so your kids can air their grievances and you can mediate. Remind them that they don't have to love their siblings all the time, but they do have to treat them with respect.

Wolf: Give your kids basic strategies for avoiding conflicts. For instance, you might say, "If you don't want your little sister to play with your Legos, you need to put them away when you're done playing with them."

DeMars: It's natural for kids to bicker, but if it persists or gets physical, you'll need to intervene. Since kids often have trouble coming up with solutions in the heat of the moment, you may need to separate them and have a cooling-off period before they can really listen to each other and work things out.

My kid hits other kids on playdates.

Coach's Playbook

Cassani Adams: The next time your child hits someone, remove him from the situation right away and ask, "What can you do instead of hitting to get what you want? Can you use your words? Can you ask me for help?" If it continues, give him a time-out to cool down.

Dr. O'Brien: If your child is 2 or younger, take him aside and say, "Our rule is no hitting -- ever." If he's 3 or older, establish immediate consequences for hitting, such as taking away TV time. And have your child apologize right away to the person he hit.

Wolf: Get down on your child's level and say, "No. We don't hit. We use our words." If your child is at least 3, you can explain what he should have done differently. For instance, "In the future, you can ask your friend for a turn instead of hitting her and grabbing the toy."

DeMars: Help him put his feelings into words. Say something like, "I can tell you're really angry, but hitting won't solve anything." If his aggressive behavior continues, send him to another room and say, "If you don't stop hitting your friends, you won't be allowed to have playdates." And be prepared to follow through with your consequence.

My kid is a picky eater.

Coach's Playbook

Cassani Adams: Let him try new foods with something he likes, such as cheese sauce, ketchup, or ranch dressing. Be positive, and keep your expectations realistic: If your child takes a bite or two, that's success.

Dr. O'Brien: When you serve a new food, make a side dish you know your child will eat. But don't give in by making her a separate meal. She won't starve, and eventually she'll learn to give new things a try.

Wolf: Instead of letting your child graze all day as he pleases, schedule regular snacktimes, such as at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., so you know he'll be hungry for meals. That way, he'll be more open to trying new things.

DeMars: Put a little bit of the new food on her plate, along with something you know she'll eat. Don't expect immediate results. You may have to serve it to her 10 times before she'll take more than a bite of it.

How to Choose a Coach

Think a parent coach might be right for you? Then follow this advice: Do your homework before you pick one. While some coaches have advanced degrees in child development, social work, or psychology, others have no formal training whatsoever.

1. Check out a coach's credentials. Ask if she's certified through a graduate training program, such as the Parent Coaching Institute, in Bellevue, Washington. At the least, find someone who has worked with families for a minimum of two years.

2. Comparison shop. Ask several candidates the same question (such as, "How would you handle a 3-year-old who won't sleep through the night?"). Then pick the coach who's on the same wavelength as you.

3. Get references. Don't trust Web site testimonials. Call at least two past clients to find out how helpful the coach really was.

Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the June 2008 issue of Parents magazine.

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