What's Parent Counseling?

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated May 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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Parenting can be full of ups and downs, no matter your child's age. While happy moments may make you love your role as a caretaker, challenging times may lead to stress and questioning your ability to care for your children adequately. Parenting can be especially challenging for single or divorced parents, as they may face additional personal issues and struggles in managing their families. Many may look for advice on what makes a good parent.

This range of emotions can be natural and something every parent experiences. However, it may still be challenging to navigate. Professional parent counseling can be one way parents seek help for themselves and their children. It can address concerns like separation or divorce, mental health issues, substance use, domestic violence, and more.

If you or a loved one is witnessing or experiencing any form of abuse, please know that help is available. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline anytime at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

parent counseling with kid

Parenting can be difficult, no matter your child’s age

What is parent counseling?

Several forms of counseling may benefit parents when facing challenging situations or dealing with difficult emotions related to their children. They may seek family therapy sessions involving both parent and child, turn to child-centered play or filial therapy, or pursue individual counseling for their children. Parent counseling is another effective option. 

Parent counseling may provide parents with a safe space to discuss their parenting experience, including highlights and challenges. A professional therapist may listen to a parent and ask thoughtful questions while gaining a greater understanding of the individual's role in their family. Any parent, whether a mother or father, can benefit from mental health counseling, and any family can benefit from family counseling.

As the parent and counselor interact during the sessions, the parent may learn more about their parenting style and how their actions affect their children. In doing so, they may understand how to better face challenges and parent in a healthy way for the whole family. Parents do not necessarily need to be experiencing challenges to seek therapy or parenting advice.

Parenting styles

Many parents recognize that their child has a will of their own when the child begins to learn verbal and non-verbal communication skills. 

It is common for parents to believe conflict arises when a child first communicates opposition to a parental command or a rule. However, conflict may arise from how a parent addresses a child's opposition. Parent counseling may also help you identify your parenting style, which can relate to how you handle this opposition.

Authoritarian parenting 

One style of parenting is called "authoritarian." Authoritarian parents may feel they have the final say and that "no means no." Parents who follow the authoritarian style may have difficulty adjusting their composure when their child is having a bad day or acting defiantly. Parent counseling may help you empathize more with your child and improve your understanding of the dynamics in your family unit.

Authoritative parenting 

Another parenting style is "authoritative." Authoritative parents may be democratic in their approach to a child's opposition while setting firm behavioral limits. They demonstrate empathy, acceptance, and understanding and often view discipline as a teaching opportunity. 

Authoritative parenting is a recommended style by parent counseling experts, and learning how to utilize this style could be a vital component of the therapeutic process.

Permissive parenting 

Permissive parenting is another parenting style. Parents who practice this may not establish strict rules or expectations for their children. Children may be left to figure things out on their own as they make mistakes, with few instances of punishment. While there may be some benefits to this parenting style, it can also contribute to a variety of mental health issues as children grow up. Counseling services can help permissive parents become more authoritative.

Uninvolved parenting 

The final parenting style is "uninvolved." Parents who use this style may meet a child's basic needs while staying largely uninvolved in the rest of their life. They may not set firm boundaries. Often, they do not punish their children but do not offer positive guidance either. This type of parenting can lead to mental health struggles for children, as it is generally crucial to meet children’s emotional needs in addition to their basic needs. Parent counseling helps uninvolved parents become the best parents they can be by teaching them recommended skills and approaches.

Parent counseling child cooking

What to expect in parent counseling

Parent counseling can be useful for parents who face conflicts in their relationships with their children. While individual counseling sessions may depend on the individuals and their challenges, the following are often components of parent counseling.

Investigating family dynamics

Family dynamics can affect how a parent interacts with their child. Divorced parents may need to navigate co-parenting with an ex-spouse, and single parents may face the challenge of raising their children without a partner's support. A therapist may speak with parents to understand the family size, the role of any other caregivers in the children's development, and household income. The therapist can then communicate with the parent to help them understand how these factors may impact their role as a parent.

Aside from general parenting styles, parenting may also vary across the world. Children from various countries may grow up under different parental expectations. If children are brought into American culture after beginning their childhood in another culture, cultural differences may increase tension, causing additional stress in the parent's and child's lives. Counseling can be helpful in this type of situation.

Learning about your child

In therapy, the counselor may help the parent reach a deeper understanding of themselves and their child, allowing them to teach important life skills and values. The counselor can help parents identify problems that the child may not yet be able to express or understand. They can bring in knowledge of where the child is developmentally and how it might relate to the conflict that is taking place. In this way, parent counseling can provide a unique and valuable education for the parent, their children, and the family as a whole.

Providing explanations for your decisions

Many conflicts with your child may happen when you make a parenting decision that your child disagrees with. Parent counseling therapists may suggest remembering that your child might understand more than you believe they do. Therefore, it may help to give them a genuine reason behind each unpopular decision you make. "Because I said so" may pop out now and then. However, a child may not understand this approach. 

Helping your child understand your thought process may give them more respect for your authority. For example, you may say, "I told you that you needed to clean your room before you can leave with your friends, and it's essential to me that you learn to keep your commitments." Eventually, your child may fully grasp that you have their best interest and the well-being of your family in mind.

Managing conversations and conflict

A key part of parent counseling is learning how to have productive and supportive conversations with your children. This is especially important for divorced parents who may need to navigate difficult conversations about their former spouse or the changes in the family dynamic. 

Parents may be particularly concerned about their teenagers, who may struggle with various issues, including emotional support and adjusting to changes in their bodies. Parent counseling can help parents understand their teens' needs and develop strategies to support and manage their adolescents effectively.

The pressure of parenting well

Parents may sometimes resist going to parent counseling for parent-child conflicts because they fear mental health professionals will harshly judge them. However, the idea behind parent counseling is not to judge or work against the parent or family. Instead, the role of the parent counseling therapist is to be a key point of contact to help the parent and family resolve any concerns. 

Taking steps to improve your relationship with your child may be something to admire, not judge. Many parent coaching professionals understand and practice this approach. 

When counseling parents, therapists are often aware that the parent is often the one who has the most power to bring positive change in the family. They may see a parent's well-being as crucial to a peaceful home environment. By following their lead and accepting support for your well-being, you may better support your child or children. It can be frightening to begin parent counseling, but many parents find the experience worthwhile.

Counseling may begin with the child or parent

In some cases, parent-child therapy may begin with the child. The child might go to a therapist for play therapy or individual counseling, and the parent may be called in for support. While many children still participate in one-on-one counseling, treatment for parent-child conflicts is often focused on parent counseling. This may be because parents often significantly influence what goes on in the family. 

Additionally, one or both parents sometimes have health problems or mental health challenges that can affect their marriage and relationship with their children. Divorced and single parents may have personal issues, such as job-related stress or difficulties managing their emotional well-being. Some parents may be struggling with substance use or abusing alcohol, which can affect their relationship with their families. In parent counseling, a trained professional will help parents identify and resolve these issues, providing them with the tools to better care for their children. A therapist may also provide mental health counseling and create a treatment plan for certain mental health issues.

Parent counseling may take time

Parents may feel overwhelmed by conflict when they begin parent counseling. They may need to hear suggestions a few times and spend time considering what they have learned in parent counseling before successfully implementing their new skills. 

Therapy may take some time before it produces noticeable results. Be patient with yourself as you learn new ways of managing difficult situations, and try not to put pressure on yourself, your family, or your child to do everything right immediately.

Parenting can be difficult, no matter your child’s age

Seeking counseling for parenting guidance

Parent counseling may provide benefits to any family unit facing parent-child conflict. Receiving therapy is often not a reflection of your ability as a parent. Seeking expert professional advice and support can demonstrate your level of caring for your child and your whole family.

Studies show that parent counseling may make a positive difference. A recent study found that parents who participated in a six-session parent counseling program scored significantly higher than their pre-therapy results on emotional support, satisfaction, involvement, communication, limit setting, autonomy, role orientation, and dealing with their parent-child relationship. 

Many parents find themselves "too busy" to attend family therapy. In this case, you may benefit from online treatment, which allows you to participate in a session from home in a way that works for you. You can even attend a session between driving to soccer practice and picking up dinner, as long as you have an internet connection.  

Online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may be a practical solution for your children and family. If you're unsure how to start, you can try checking reliable resources for parenting, such as parenting books or websites, or consider reaching out and seeing how online therapy can benefit you.


Parent counseling has become increasingly relevant in today's fast-paced world, where parents, including mothers and fathers, often find themselves worried and unable to navigate the complexities of raising children. Through engaging in open and honest dialogue, counseling provides a platform for parents to talk about their concerns, discuss experiences, and gain valuable insights. Counselors not only act as mediators but also teach essential parenting skills that help parents address various challenges. 

The focal point of parent counseling is to empower parents to be more present in their children's lives, create a supportive environment, and build lasting bonds. If you're considering reaching out for support, take the first step by contacting a parent counselor. 

Explore the complexities of parenting in therapy
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