Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Simple Way For Parents To Help Their Kids: Cooperate!

Do you want to raise kids who turn into superheroes as adults?
As many of you know, I am (slowly) writing a book tentatively titled How To Raise Boys. The goal of this book is to give parents practical, concrete, and research-based advice on how to teach boys to get along with others and remain in control of their emotions.

In my research for this book, I ran across an interesting study from 2010. Two psychologists reviewed and statistically analyzed more than 50 studies on 'coparenting' and its effects on children. I am going to include this study in my book, and I thought I would give you a preview...

Coparenting is the psychological term for raising a child with another person. That person can be a spouse, but it does not have to be. Anyone who takes an active role in raising, caring for, and disciplining your child might be considered a coparent. The hallmarks of effective coparenting are cooperation and agreement. If the caretakers agree on parenting techniques and cooperate in raising the children, the thought is that those children will be better off.

On the other hand, problematic coparenting is marked by conflict between caretakers and triangulation. Triangulation is a concept where one caretaker and the child align against the other caretaker. Imagine a scenario where a dad tells his child not to pay attention to the mom's discipline because it was too harsh. Do you think that child is going to respect the mom's authority after that? And, do you think the mom might start to develop a little animosity toward the dad? That, in a nutshell, is triangulation.

This is the type of family situation that provides
good job security to future therapists

As you might imagine, the meta-analysis from 2010 concluded that positive coparenting has a healthy effect on children. Agreement and cooperation on parenting techniques leads to fewer problematic behaviors in children. They are less aggressive and less defiant.

Positive coparenting also leads to more prosocial behaviors. Children will have more friends, and their relationships will be healthier.

Interestingly, these positive coparenting effects are stronger for boys than they are for girls. Although both boys and girls are better off if their caretakers coparent in a healthy way, boys will benefit from it more than girls will. Conversely, boys will suffer more negative consequences than girls in situations where caretakers are not cooperating and are conflicting about parenting practices.

With this in mind, I can offer the following suggestions:

1. Talk with your coparent: Have a conversation about what is working with your kids and what needs to change. Make sure you come to some agreement on parenting styles. If you make any changes, make sure you both commit to work on them.

2. Have your coparent's back: When kids hear you say, "I agree with Mom on this. You are in big trouble, kiddo," they know they cannot manipulate their way out of a bad situation. They then transfer this non-manipulation to their peer relationships.

3. When you don't agree with your coparent, talk about it away from the kids: There are times when you will make a mistake. Or, your parenting partner will make a mistake. "No more television for the rest of the summer" may seem like a good disciplinary tactic in the heat of the moment, but you might quickly realize it is going to cause a lot of problems in the future and is not the best way to handle a bad situation with your child. By discussing this with your coparent out of the child's earshot, you can agree on a new course of action and then present it to your child in a cooperative manner. For example, you could say, "You know, son, when Dad told you 'no TV for the rest of the summer,' he was angry. He and I talked about it later and we both realized it was too harsh of a punishment. Instead, we think no television for the rest of the week is more appropriate."

4. If you can't agree with your coparent, some brief family counseling might be helpful: Raising your children is one of the most important things you will do. You and your parenting partner are trying your best to do it properly. But, if you both have strong ideas on what will work and those ideas are in conflict with one another, you might need an objective person to help you sort them out.

What other suggestions do you have for cooperative coparenting? Any cautionary tales?

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.


In my original post, I forgot to include the reference for the 2010 article I mentioned. Here it is:

Teubert, D., & Pinquart, M. (2010). The association between coparenting and child adjustment: A meta-analysis. Parenting: Science and Practice, 10(4), 286-307.

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