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Parental Help: Choosing an Expert That’s Right for Your Family
A complete breakdown to match the best possible expert for family and parent-related issues.

There's no manual that comes with your baby on how to be a parent, but there are experts who can help.

Professionals often say to me, "Even though we have advanced degrees, we were never taught practical parenting techniques like what you teach your classes." Yet, these are the professional’s parents are referred to when they need expert parenting advice!

In general, Bachelor-level family-service professionals provide direct service, Masters-level professionals provide these therapeutic or administrative services, and Ph.D.s do research. All of them learn about child development and family system theories, but not proven-effective parenting practices! The exception is a "parenting studies" degree, which is a relatively new degree program.

So let me give you a few details based on recent interviews with professionals in each area, that will help you find the best expert for the type of advice you seek:

Psychologists have extensive training in diagnostic testing. Those who are of the "old school" traditionally use B.F. Skinner’s "behavior modification techniques." These are external motivators, like rewards, sticker charts, incentives and punishments that use the parents' power to manipulate and control children. We now have several decades worth of long-term research that consistently proves these methods only get short-term results, do not foster internal motivation, and are counter-productive in the long-run. (See www.AlfieKohn.org) Even Skinner recanted his own findings late in life, saying "humans have deeper motivations than rats."

Bottom line: Those who stay abreast of family practice research will not recommend these proven-ineffective tactics. So asking professionals their opinion about these tactics is a good way to determine which psychologists are current with the research and are reliable sources of advice.

Pediatricians are trained and educated in medical and child development issues. They are not, however, traditionally trained in research-based effective parenting techniques. A good pediatrician will have done independent research and training in effective parenting, but don’t assume every pediatrician has done this. Some give advice based on their personal opinion or "common practices" that might not be proven effective.

Bottom line: All pediatricians are qualified to answer medical questions, but not all are qualified to answer child-rearing and parenting questions. Inquire about what training they’ve had in this area before asking their parenting advice.

Psychiatrists are mental health professionals who can prescribe medication like a medical doctor. So blend the comments about psychologists and pediatricians to get a feel for their training. In general, you’ll want to seek a psychiatrist’s help when someone needs diagnosis and medication treatment for psychological or mental disorders.

Therapists must have advanced degrees, specialized training and professional experience in child development and family systems theory to be licensed. They are not, however, required to have any knowledge of parenting theories or proven-effective practices. Yet these are the professionals parents are most often referred to for help with family issues. Like pediatricians and psychologists, these professionals must do independent training to learn these skills—and most do.

Bottom line: Unless therapists have received specialized training it is best to seek their advice when working out deep, long-term issues that have not improved after learning proven-effective parenting techniques and using them long enough to see you are not getting the results most parents get.

Parent "Coaches" Parent "Coaches" learn coaching techniques and then apply them to their work with parents. They are not required nor do many have any formal education, training or professional experience in child development, family systems theory or parenting theories or practices. They often assume parenting is "common sense" and simply support the parent in finding his/her own solutions without providing education, information and practical skill training.

Bottom line: If you already have great parenting skills and the answers to your questions, coaches can help you discover those within yourself. If, however, you’ve not had great role models or don’t have good parenting knowledge or proven-effective skills, be sure your coach has some kind of specialized parent education certification.

Certified Parent or Family Life Educators
Usually, certified parent educators or family life educators (CFLEs, www.ncfr.org) are the most qualified parenting experts based on their training, even if they do not have advanced degrees! This is because they have received specialized training, education and skill development from the providers of the parent-training curriculum they use. Not all these curriculum programs, however, teach research-based proven-effective parenting practices.

Bottom line: Ask to see the "outcome results" for the parenting program you are attending. If they don’t have any, then there is no proof that what they teach will give you long-term results.

While the professionals we seek for parenting advice have not usually received training in practical parenting techniques as part of their standard training, most care deeply about giving the best advice to their patients/clients. So don’t assume anything. Read certificates on their wall and ask questions about their post-degree training and parenting philosophies. Remember, each individual regardless of their base education may or may not be the most appropriate choice for your needs.

For more information and suggestions on handling unhelpful advice, read more articles on this topic by Jody Pawel or opt-in for the Parents Toolshop’s FREE 7-day introductory e-course (click here) and get the following bonus reports:

1. Top 10 Parenting Myths Most Parents — and Some Professionals — Believe And Truths Everyone Should Know (Day 11)
2. The Common Sense Guide To Screening & Weeding Parenting Advice. (Day 13)

Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is a second-generation parent educator, founder of The Family Network, award-winning author of "The Parents Toolshop" book and President of Parents Toolshop Consulting. She has 25+ years experience as a workshop trainer and parenting expert to the media worldwide, including Parents magazine and the Ident-a-Kid television series. She currently serves as the online parenting expert for Cox Ohio Publishing’s mom-to-mom websites and also serves on the Advisory Board of the National Effective Parenting Initiative.

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Over 1 million couples turn to Hitched for expert marital advice every year. Sign up now for our newsletter & get exclusive weekly content that will entertain, educate and inspire your marriage.

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