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Co-Parenting Counseling

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I am a marriage and family therapist with a master's degree in marriage and family therapy.


Children Benefit from Having Both of Their Parents

Whether parents are together or separated, children benefit greatly from having both of their parents involved in their lives. Studies show that children emotionally and mentally benefit from having their biological mother and father raising them. This is assuming that the child is being raised in a healthy home where their physical, emotional, and mental needs are being met. Children are also affected negatively when fathers are not present in their lives, studies show. With all of these statistics in mind, children need both of their parents in their lives to help them flourish.

To help their children, parents can go through co-parenting counseling or classes in order to be more congruent or consistent in their parenting. Mothers and fathers can learn to rear their children in the same way whether they live in the same household together or not. Consistency and routine are vital for children to learn structure for the sake of their development. In counseling, parents can discuss their roles and values of their selves individually as parents as well as how they will parent their children together.

For parents that are together in the same household of their children, this gives them an advantage compared to parents who are separated. It is an advantage to be in the same household because everyone in the family can see each others' roles, who reacts to what, and what the culture and environment are in the home. For instance, children can easily pick up who “rules” over the household, which parent is more strict and which is easier going. Children can see how their parents interact and react with each other, and how they interact with each parent. Two parents living in the same home can learn in counseling how to effectively and efficiently co-parent together, and there are different areas in which to discuss.


Getting on the Same Page

For starters, parents can learn in counseling how meal times will be in the home. Do you all sit at the dining room table together and eat? Do you eat separately in your own rooms? Do you all sit in front of the TV together and eat? Whatever it is you do, it should be consistent and regular. If breakfast is a little more rushed and hectic because kids are getting ready for school, and parents may be getting ready for work, then make it known and set guidelines. This conversation should happen between the parents and children. For instance, tell your kids:

“Daddy leaves early for work, so he may not be staying long for breakfast in the morning. Kids, I need you to be dressed and ready for school before sitting down at the table. Mommy will eat with you and then we need to leave right after we’re done to go to school.”

A similar structure and conversation can be had for dinner times during the week. A mother and father can practice this by setting up a routine like this:

“Every night at 6:30 we will sit down for dinner together at the table. Everyone will need to be home and we will sit and eat together until everyone is finished. When we’re done, everyone should bring their plates in the kitchen and put them in the dishwasher, please. Then you can go play/do homework/go outside/etc.”

This conversation sets the scene and expectations for your children as parents together. You both are co-parenting together, agree on a structure together, and communicate this to your children in a way that is age appropriate for them.

This type of structure may not always be viable as your children become older and have more of a social agenda. Perhaps your children are involved in school activities, sports, youth group, etc. These fun things don’t need to be interrupted but rather included in your family dynamics. Set your kids up for success by including these fun things, however often they happen and exactly when. Alter and change plans as needed, create the new plan of action, communicate it and make it happen. Life doesn't have to be boring and mundane, but it can work well when you co-parenting well together.


How Will You Discipline?

The second area of co-parenting can be in the way of disciplining your children. You may start to think: “I’ll never need to discipline my children, they are perfect and always listen to me!” This is wonderful for you, and I hope it lasts forever. However, in most cases there will need to be set rules and guidelines to help pave the path for life for your children. It can be a big scary world out there, and having congruent guidance from both of your parents can be very beneficial. In counseling, a therapist can discuss each parent’s idea of discipline, and what that looks like for them. If the parent’s way of discipline do not line up with the other, working through those differences in therapy can help. Here are some common areas of discipline to discuss and come to common grounds together:

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Corporal punishment: What are your preferences on this? To do or not to do? How quickly or in what circumstances would you do this if you are in favor of it? Be careful not to spank or hit out of anger since high emotion can fuel harsher punishment that is unnecessary. If one parent is very heated, the other can intervene to help with the discipline.

Punishments/timeout: Use an age-appropriate punishment or time out. In what case would you enforce a punishment; the first time they don't listen/act out or the second or third time? Often times for timeouts, whatever the age of the child dictates the length of the timeout. Two minutes of time out for a 2 year old, three minutes for a 3 year old, and so on. Two or three minutes doesn't seem long to us as the parent, but it is an eternity for the child. These are all important topics to discuss in counseling to be on the same page together in your punishments/timeouts for your children.

Negative reinforcement: This is a psychology term in which something is removed in order to improve a certain behavior. As parents, you can discuss with your counselor about discipline in way of removing favorable “things” your child likes in order to improve what you want of them. If a child’s grades are slipping in school, if they do not listen to you and deliberately disobey, or do not obey your instruction such as being home at a certain time, something of great value can be removed. For example, when a three-year-old continues to throw a tantrum, yells “no!” and does not listen to the constant instruction of their parents, their favorite toy can be removed from them that they enjoy. The child will be motivated to change their attitude and behavior to what their parent asked of them in order to have their toy given back to them. This is an effective use of psychology in co-parenting.


Living Separately

In terms of co-parenting from separate homes, this will often times take more diligence and clear expectations. If the parents are not married and living in separate homes, separated and legally married, or divorced, this will be an emotional and mental change for the parents as well as the children. Despite the status of the relationship between the parents, it is imperative that they work together for the sake of their children. They are still the parents of their children and if they both want the best for their kids, then working together to co-parent will help them to be more successful.

Parents can co parent living separately first by establishing who has the children on what days, and how they will be dropped off and picked up. The children should have clear expectations in their mind that they go to Dad’s house on “A,B, and C days” and to Mom’s house on “X, Y, and Z days” with a 7th day rotating depending on schedules. There should be no question and confusion about who drops off and picks up the kids to school and each other’s homes on those set days.

The same type of conversations should be set for bedtime, mealtime, homework, discipline, chores if age appropriate, and where they can and cannot go for play time. Just as discussed before, clear expectations should be set so the kids know what the limits are, what will be happening when, and all of this creates smaller room for error. If kids can find a loophole or way in or out of something, they will find it. To help decrease stress and frustration in parent-child relationships, having those conversations is vital. Parents should be on the same page for when the children are at their mother’s or father’s home. One parent may be more lenient for a bedtime or what kind of snacks or deserts they can have, but those conversations need to be clearly marked with the parents and children so everyone is “on the same page."

Your Kids Want You in Their Lives

Being a single parent is one of the most difficult tasks in the world, and many endure through it. Having two parents involved can help make life a little easier with having children. Parents would benefit and help keep their sanity that much more by working with their partner. With so many responsibilities of paying bills, keeping the house clean, driving to and from places, putting out literal and figurative fires in the home, co-parenting is a major benefit for the whole family. This lifestyle does not only help the parents but the children also. Children need and want their parent’s attention desperately, and having both parents in their lives can help satisfy that attention and love.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Pj Page (author) from St. Petersburg, Fl on May 11, 2018:

Than you for the nice comment, Nell! It is wonderful having both parents in the home growing up. I think it makes a big difference having a mother and father in the home for children. There is a significant effect on children that do not have one parent involved in their lives, especially when fathers are not involved. As you know, children having their parents quite involved in their lives is significant. I appreciate you following me and reading my article! Cheers!

Nell Rose from England on May 08, 2018:

What a great and balanced way of looking at this subject. I was very lucky, both parents at home, and the same when I married. these days kids are allowed to do too much with little discipline. I remember a doctor when I was visiting for a prescription, opening her door in the surgery and telling a parent, 'stop molly coddling that child! all she needs is a smack on the legs and a big NO! it works every time. and I do have to agree. all this naughty step rubbish and no supper etc does not work on kids. great hub

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