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Open Sky Family Services Team

July 27th, 2022

Leaning In and Looking Forward: How Parent Coaching Helps Families Tap into their Strengths, Resources, and Wisdom

Open Sky Family Services Team

Featured Team Members: Liz Lucarelli, MS, NCC, LCMHC, RPT


Open Sky offers families a variety of resources and opportunities to empower them in their journey toward wellness and self-discovery. One of these services is parent coaching. In this blog post, Liz Lucarelli, Early Adolescent Clinical Program Director, takes a deep dive into parent coaching and what makes it such a powerful experience for families.

What is parent coaching?

Parent coaching brings to life the many concepts and skills that parents and caregivers learn during their parallel process at Open Sky. Communication skills, emotion regulation strategies, and mindfulness practices are introduced to parents through Wellness Weekend, Family Pathway classes, and weekly calls with their child’s therapist. Parent coaching provides an opportunity for parents to dive deeper into practicing skills and exploring concepts with a coach trained specifically for this purpose.

Additionally, coaching can help parents take accountability for themselves, process new insights, and take steps toward forming healthier patterns within the family. A strengths-based and action-oriented process, parent coaching is a space for parents and caregivers to explore and shift the family dynamic. It provides a deeper focus on their own health, experience, and growth and is tailored to meet various goals and needs, addressing what is unique to each family.

Who are Open Sky’s parent coaches?

Open Sky has assembled a great team of parent coaches who are dedicated to helping families encounter their best selves through the capacities of wilderness therapy. They are trained in a range of treatment modalities—from motivational interviewing (MI) to choice theory to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—and have extensive experience working with families and their children. Several began their time at Open Sky as field guides and have held roles at every level of Open Sky’s programming before becoming therapists in our Family Services department. Powered by the belief that all families have the innate strength to not only heal but thrive, Open Sky coaches are passionate about supporting parents through this meaningful stage of their journey.

Can you give examples of things that might be covered in parent coaching?

Parent coaching is focused on the present and future, so topics are typically related to understanding current issues and making plans for moving forward. Some examples of what we cover in parenting coaching include:

  • Learning and practicing mindfulness and regulation skills
  • Exploring parent’s core beliefs
  • Boundaries and attunement
  • Grief exploration
  • Learning and practicing healthy communication styles and skills
  • Parenting styles
  • Values and basic needs – putting values into action
  • Parenting identity work
  • Cognitive distortions/mindset
  • Healthy conflict
  • Co-parenting
  • Widow or single parent support
  • Individualized parent pathway support
  • Transition and home planning
  • Preparation for Family Quests, phone calls, and letter writing
  • Understanding a child’s diagnosis
  • Processing a child’s psychological testing results

How does parent coaching differ from the weekly clinical update calls?

Update calls between parents and their child’s primary therapist focus on the child and their experience at Open Sky, whereas parent coaching gives parents a space to voice their feelings and experiences and bring their own goals to life. It’s an opportunity to practice reflective listening or “I feel” statements, explore values, examine mindsets, or prepare for Family Quests or graduation. Coaches are also skilled at helping parents identify potential goals if they feel stuck or uncertain. Parent coaches help parents tap into their strengths, resources, and inner wisdom. We build confidence, acknowledge strengths, highlight successes, and celebrate wins.

A great example of the supportive nature of parent coaching is how it can build on Wellness Weekend activities. During Wellness Weekends, parents create wellness plans, set goals, and examine family values. Parent coaching can help parents or caregivers follow through with their wellness plans, stay accountable to goals they set, and keep the momentum going from their Wellness Weekend activities.

How does parent coaching help support the child and family’s therapeutic process?

Parent coaching helps parents gain a deeper understanding of themselves, which fosters a deeper connection with their child. It also helps parents be more intentional, calm, and courageous in their parenting decisions. Sometimes parent coaching helps parents have difficult conversations with their children or learn how to hold boundaries. Coaches are there to help parents step into some challenging but important moments.

Research shows the power of parent involvement, and I’ve witnessed it myself with over two decades in this field. Children can feel, even if they are miles apart, the energy and attention their parents are putting towards engaging in this experience. It helps them know they aren’t alone or to blame for all that’s happening in the family system. That energy and attitude helps many students turn toward their work.

What can parents do to get the most out of their parent coaching experience?

Coaching is a collaborative process. The experience has the best outcomes when parents show up with curiosity, humility, authenticity, and a willingness to step outside their comfort zones. As we practice skills and reflect, it helps if parents are open to getting messy and leaning into the learning process. It’s a similar process to what we’re asking of their child in the field, and there is a more profound sense of understanding when parents experience that through their coaching process. We ask that parents come to sessions with an agenda or list of items they would like to focus on to co-create the experience with the coach. Generally, coaching works best when parents are highly engaged and willing to take ownership of the experience.

I believe that parents are the expert on their child and family, while the coach is the expert on the Open Sky experience. When we combine our expertise with the family’s willingness to change, powerful things can happen. Coaches have the experience to go wherever a family wants to go in their work, and we’re open to diving as deep as parents are willing.

What is the most rewarding part of working with parents through parent coaching?

There are so many rewarding aspects of parenting coaching that it’s hard to pick just one! It’s great to witness parents make discoveries about themselves that shift how they show up in their relationship with their child. Perhaps they gain more confidence to hold boundaries, see how a different communication approach can open conversations and resolve conflict, or find new ways to support their child without disempowering them. I’ve seen a lot of powerful realizations over the years. I also enjoy seeing parents rediscover their wisdom, strength, and intuition, which may have been lost after years of struggling with their child.

Another rewarding aspect of the work is seeing the children light up when they hear about the work their parents are doing. They get excited, curious, and engaged in wanting to help their parents learn and grow. We often underestimate our children, especially the younger ones, but they are very observant and see all sides of us, the best and the worst. If they feel comfortable and safe in sharing, they can provide some of the most revealing and valuable feedback. I encourage parents to ask their child for input on how they can improve or what they appreciate.

Finally, I love it when everything comes together, and you see the dynamics and patterns in families start to shift—when you see families lean into healthier ways of communication and connection or when parents begin to hold difficult but necessary boundaries. It takes a lot of work, but it’s all worthwhile. Our parent coaching team is ready to jump into that challenging but rewarding work.

What Parents Are Saying

“We began the parent coaching program with skepticism. After all, we weren’t new to this and had read numerous parenting books and gone to family and individual therapy, all with little impact. But we plunged in. We began doing the parent coaching with Liz and the group sessions with other parents who were in the program. Meanwhile, our daughter was learning the same concepts that we were. By the time we participated in the Family Quest and saw our daughter in person after two months of intensive work, we could see the transformative effects on our relationship with her and each other. For the first time we were able to communicate with our daughter in a meaningful way. Open Sky truly changed our family and allowed us to see that there was a way forward.”

  • Alumni Parent, 2022
Open Sky Family Services Team

July 27th, 2022

Open Sky Family Services Team