All children misbehave from time to time, but when they act out so regularly that it interferes with their social development, some parents are left scratching their heads. You want your children to be socially well-adjusted, and there are steps you can take to help them become that way. Recent research conducted by S.J. Shoppe-Sullivan of Ohio State University and her colleagues showed that supportive coparenting–wherein you and your parenting partner respect and reinforce each other’s parenting decisions and goals–may stabilize the behavior of your children.
During the first years of life, children begin to exercise effortful control, which is the ability to voluntarily control their behavior and attention. This skill is important for children to focus on learning or completing a task. As with all talents, some children are better at this than others. Several studies have shown a link between a child’s knack for effortful control and his behavior. Typically, children with poor effortful control exhibit more inappropriate behaviors.
The researchers suspected that supportive coparenting might alter the connection between effortful control and behavior. They studied 92 families, each consisting of a mother, father, and four year-old child. To start, they measured the effortful control of all the children, and then had trained observers rate the frequency of supportive co-parenting behaviors in each set of parents. Finally, mothers and teachers reported on the behavior of each child. The results showed that good supportive coparenting erased the link between a child’s effortful control and behavior. In other words, presenting a unified front to your child may buffer him against his own temperament, possibly resulting in significantly fewer instances of inappropriate behavior.
So how can you become a better supportive coparent?
- Discuss Parenting Goals with Your Partner. Discuss your parenting goals together. This open communication will ensure that each of you knows where the other stands on issues regarding your children.
- Honor Your Partner’s Goals and Decisions. When an issue with your child arises, try to respond to it in such a way as to honor your partner’s parenting goals as well as your own.
- Make Decisions Together. When in doubt about how to proceed with a major decision regarding your child, discuss the decision with your partner. Analyze how each option meets each person’s parenting goals. Be willing to compromise to reach a final decision.
- Do Not Undermine Your Partner. If your partner has made a decision that you don’t agree with, don’t simply try to reverse it or tell the child to ignore the decision. Discuss it with your partner and try to come to an agreement on how to proceed. Present the altered decision to your child together.