I have known Tina Feigal for about eight years, and over that time have talked with her several times about the unique work she does coaching parents to become effective while dealing with challenging children. In this blog I am going to introduce you to Tina and have her explain the core concepts of this exciting possibility.
Bruce: I’ve had the opportunity to talk with you some about the work you do with the Center for the Challenging Child, and I’ve read some of your materials. Can you tell me about how this fascinating concept first came to you?
Tina: It came slowly over time, as I was raising my three boys, then going to graduate school in school psychology, then working as a school psychologist. I remember one day thinking, “Everything I have done so far has led me to this place of helping other parents.” At school, I was evaluating children for emotional/behavioral disorders, and I thought to myself, “If I could just get to the adults in these children’s lives, we wouldn’t need so many evaluations for emotional/behavioral disorders.” My middle son was my inspiration, as he had a tough time as a child. I wanted other people to benefit from what I learned from raising him, and from working with kids at school, so I just started. I literally hung my shingle as a parent coach and prayed. That was almost 15 years ago.
Bruce: I know that when we began working with the concept of collaborative law practice, it took us considerable time to begin to develop some muscle, because we had to start from nothing to create a structure, and figure out how to operate within that structure. Have you found anything similar to this with your work in parent coaching?
Tina: The structure has certainly evolved, similar to the way it has for collaborative law. I started with the concepts of parents providing emotional attention for the behaviors they wanted, and giving no attention to behavior they didn’t want. As time went by, I added the concept of the attunement in the present moment, which power-boosts parenting like nothing else. Then came understanding the child’s physiological response to communication, and helping adults realize they could have a hugely positive effect on their children’s bodies using the language of heartfelt appreciation. Expanding on that theme, I’ve branched out to help adults realize that when children act out, they are just trying to survive emotionally. Working with the parents of children who have experienced trauma is the latest puzzle piece, and it’s quite wonderful seeing how effective parents can be when they know what to do!
Bruce: In order for collaborative law practice to work, it requires a commitment by the parties in addition to expertise by the professionals. From the frame of reference of the child, what things optimize the chance of success, and what factors prove most detrimental?
Tina: One of the most important concepts that parents miss, through no fault of their own, is the framework of child development. When they bring their issues to coaching, what stands out it is that they really never learned what’s normal for kids at each stage. When they do understand that childhood involves distinct phases, each with particular characteristics, things go a lot more smoothly. If a parent looks at his or her child and sees only a small adult who “should know better” that’s a recipe for conflict, judgment and punishment. It’s so easy for parents to take behavior personally when it’s really just coming from immaturity. When they can move to understanding that children don’t mean to do a great deal of what they do (and it’s not a personal attack toward their parents) but are just developing at a certain pace and trying to survive, we can work toward resolution and peace.
Bruce: What are the core skills you see as being critical for training professionals to become effective parenting coaches?
Tina: Coaches need to understand the developmental phases of children very well. They also need to be able to communicate the bigger perspective of child behavior without putting their clients on the defensive. They need to teach parents techniques for bringing out the best in children of all types: those with typical neural development, autism, attachment issues, giftedness, anxiety, ADHD, oppositional defiance, adoption, foster care, grief, trauma and other conditions that make behavior challenging. Coaches are most effective when they have their own experience working with and/or raising children, so they can show empathy toward parents.
Bruce: How many professionals are providing these services, and how are they being trained?
Tina: It’s hard to calculate how many parent coaches there are, as no national organization exists as yet. (A group in North Carolina is working on it, and I’m in touch with them regularly.) I’ve trained over 200 coaches, from Canada and the US. They either start their own coaching businesses or infuse what they learn into their established careers as (most typically) therapists or social workers.
Bruce: One of the things I see as unique to what you do is your ability to provide coaching to parents by phone. How did this component of your process come about?
Tina: I’m practical first and foremost. When your “market” is parents, it’s important to be very flexible with how you deliver services, as they have so many demands on their time, with families, jobs, households, extended families and friends. So I make coaching available via phone and Skype to fit the needs of clients – they can see me in my office or save parking, traffic hassles, and babysitting fees by using technology. Also I’m not limited to local clients. I’ve coached people in a dozen states, England, Australia, and Canada, and it doesn’t really make a difference whether it’s in person or not. Parents show comparable success either way. What matters is their commitment to improving their relationships with their children, and when that’s in place, the delivery method is “whatever works best.”
Bruce: I really like what this approach provides by being able to coach parents remotely while they are in the middle of a conflict, without the child being aware of the service being provided. Can you tell a little about how this works?
Tina: Sure. Present Moment Parenting is delivered to the parents only. I love this model because it doesn’t even require that the children know their parents are seeking help, which could result in a weakening of their authority in the children’s eyes. Children with challenging behavior often find themselves in a therapist’s office with adults focusing on them, which implies such a power imbalance that it’s hard to get to the real issues. Coaching parents from behind the scenes takes that dynamic out of the equation, and puts the healing in the hands of the parents. They see success, feel empowered, draw closer to their children, and the kids aren’t identified (one more time) as “the problem.” Everybody wins.
Bruce: In working with collaborative divorce clients I’ve learned that some people prefer to have information be provided vocally, while others are more visual, and prefer to see what is being discussed to help them be able to grasp the message. How does this play out in the work you do with coaching parents?
Tina: I wrote a book, The Pocket Coach for Parents: Your Two-Week Guide to a Dramatically Improved Life with Your Intense Child so parents could have a written reference that covers the main concepts of Present Moment Parenting. The book has a CD in the back, so if parents are better with auditory learning, they also have a resource. I write a regular e-mail newsletter, and post each parenting article on my web site, www.parentingmojo.com, so parents can take in information on their own time. I have had parents call me after they have visited my site at 2 a.m. after a tough day with the kids. That’s when they are ready for an appointment.
Bruce: Do you prefer to coach two parents together, or do you work with them separately?
Tina: I love to coach both parents, and however that works is fine with me. Sometimes parents are going through a separation, but still find their way to coaching together, and sometimes they come individually. If only one parent is willing, that’s fine, too. The other parent often sees the results the coached parent is getting, and will jump on board with Present Moment Parenting over time. And if that doesn’t happen, it’s still worthwhile to have one parent learn how to bring out the best in his or her child. At least it’s happening somewhere, which is a whole lot better than its not happening!
Bruce: Have you had breakthroughs in the creation of your model of coaching that have helped to move your work forward more powerfully? What are they?
Tina: Yes, and sometimes they are so subtle that it’s hard to identify them, but these come to mind.
- The power of the present moment is profound in its effect on the parent-child relationship. When parents can stop focusing on the past with fear and on the future with dread, they can be fully present to the developing child in front of them. That’s where the magic happens.
- Children’s bodies are profoundly affected by communication from their parents. When parents know how to affect their bodies in a positive way, the results are often immediate and dramatic.
- All people are just trying to survive emotionally. Parents often don’t realize how profound their influence is on their children’s survival mechanism. When they do realize it, they can heal what’s been hurt.
- Parents are doing the best they can with the tools they have. They just need new information. There’s no need to diagnose them with something wrong, as with mainstream psychological care. Coaching works well because it’s simply “teaching parents what to do to make it better.” That’s really what they want.
Thank you, Tina.Tagged with: child specialist • children • Co-Parenting