Commonwealth Parenting: Private consultations offer personalized support

Sleep issues? Behavior challenges? Not sure if your kid is ready for kindergarten? Commonwealth Parenting is at-the-ready to help you find answers to your biggest parenting questions.

Photo by: vastateparksstaff

This is probably a familiar scenario for you parents out there:

Your kid does or says something that gives you pause, and your mind jumps right onto The Parental Hamster Wheel of What-Ifs™. Then come the sleepless nights, frantic Googling, and maybe a few angst-ridden texts to more seasoned parents with the hope of gaining some reassurance.

As a parent, it’s my experience that most sources of kid-related worry shake out over time.1 I mean, there’s a reason why “It’s just a phase” is a parental cliché: usually it’s true.


But what should parents and caregivers do if their child’s challenging behavior doesn’t fade over time? What if their go-to child-rearing techniques don’t work? Not every problem has a clearly-defined cause, nor does it necessarily require medical intervention. Lucky for us Richmond parents, we’ve got an option that offers a happy medium between helplessly wringing our hands and sounding every alarm within our reach.

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Commonwealth Parenting has served as the Richmond area’s leading resource for parenting information for over 30 years. Although it’s probably best known among local families for its parenting workshops and connection with the Children’s Museum of Richmond, Commonwealth Parenting also offers private consultations for moms, dads, and caregivers in need of support as they navigate parenting challenges or simply try to figure out how to help their child reach his or her fullest potential.

“[Private consultations] can be about anything,” explains Susan Brown, Commonwealth Parenting’s Lead Educator. “Sleep issues, toilet training, unmanageable behavior, acting out, school issues, sibling issues–anything […] We’re also asked to do a lot of these observations to assess kindergarten readiness.”

Once a family reaches out to Commonwealth Parenting for a private consultation, the parents meet in person with one of the organization’s three family educators2 to speak in confidence about the challenges they’re facing. After pulling together a developmental history of the child, the family educator works with the parents to pin down the specific areas of concern and, as Brown puts it, “where the problem lies.”

“I work from the premise that every parent has one wish: what’s best for their children,” Brown explains. “But parents don’t always know. And it’s confusing! It’s hard parenting today!”3

While private consultations offer practical advice that parents can start using right away, a child observation is the most effective way to determine if the family is dealing with a parenting issue, a school issue, or something that requires more extensive support.

“There’s nothing like boots on the ground, eye on the child,” says Brown. But she’s quick to add that while Commonwealth Parenting’s family educators are experts in child development, they do not provide diagnoses.

“We are very clear that we are a parenting center. So, while we do go out and observe children, we don’t meet with or treat children,” Brown explains.

Observations typically take place at the child’s school–usually with the blessings of teachers and administrators,4 according to Brown. But there are other options if parents aren’t comfortable with sending someone into the classroom or if the child isn’t in school yet. Commonwealth Parenting doesn’t do home visits, but families can arrange for observations to take place at local playgrounds, parks, or any of the Children’s Museum locations around town.

Based on the results of the observation, the family educator will then make recommendations to the parents and/or teacher that will both address the specific issue at hand and set the child up for long-term success. Should the observation reveal a need for specialized intervention, the family educator is then able to direct the parents toward the resources their child needs. In some cases, the educator’s job then shifts from observer to a team leader of sorts.

“I get all the players in place to support the child,” says Brown, referring to a family with whom she’s currently working. “I think, ‘How can we put together a multi-dimensional program to support him and get him where we need him to be?'”

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The cost for a child observation with Commonwealth Parenting is $250. That fee covers the initial meeting with the family educator, a one-hour observation of the child, and the follow-up session to discuss findings and recommendations. If that price seems too steep, Brown urges moms and dads to get in touch anyway–and to do so as soon as they feel the need.5

“One of the things I feel is key is that when a parent calls, they’re ready to make a move,” she says.

Scholarships are available and, according to Brown, Commonwealth Parenting tries to not turn away any parents seeking help.

“The beauty of Commonwealth Parenting is this: There are many parents who feel a stigma, or they don’t feel they’re quite ready to see a therapist for their child, or to see a child psychologist for an evaluation,” she adds. “They don’t feel that the problems are that severe, or they’re just not comfortable going to that level. We’re a safe place. We don’t do therapy. We don’t do testing. We simply guide parents toward resources and support them through that process.”

To schedule a private consultation with Commonwealth Parenting, call 804.545.1272. Evening appointments are available.

  1. A friend once told me to give it two weeks before really worrying about quirky, unusual behavior. That advice has served me well in the six-and-a-half years I’ve been at this parenting thing. 
  2. In addition to Brown, Courtney Bevan, a former special education teacher, and Michelle Johnston, a former guidance counselor, provide private consultations for Commonwealth Parenting. 
  3. I wanted to cry when she said that. Validation makes me weepy. 
  4. And if there is pushback from the school, well, as Brown puts it “…that tells you something.” 
  5. If parents aren’t quite ready to make the private consultation leap, Brown encourages them to make use of Commonwealth Parenting’s free Parenting Helpline (804.545.1928). This service gives parents a 10- or 15-minute phone consultation with a family educator. 
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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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