Co-Parenting Reduces Behavioral Problems in Toddlers

Studies have shown that lack of effective control by parents over a toddler’s behavior and aggression has multiple consequences. Such consequences include behavioral manifestations known as “externalizing behaviors,” such as fidgeting. Also, parents often tend to affect each other’s control over the child by interfering with each other’s parenting. This study was conducted to see whether parents interfering with each other affected their child’s control and also their “externalizing behavior.” Results showed that parents who supported each others parenting techniques did better in controlling the child and minimizing “externalization behaviors” in a preschooler.

Maladjustment of a child in society, as well as on an emotional level, has been studied in detail. Many factors influence a child’s psychosocial growth and development, including innate temperament and social settings. One of these is “effortful control.” This literally means regulation of the child’s emotions, like anger and frustration, which result in better control of a child’s emotional reactions and behavior. It has also been seen that parents often undermine each other’s efforts to discipline the child. These positive and negative interferences may affect “effortful control” and this study aimed at examining whether this in turn leads to more “externalizing behaviors” in preschoolers.

•    A total of 92 families, each including both parents and a four year old child, were involved in the study.
•    In phase one of the study, both parents completed questionnaires regarding their child’s behavior. They were then given two small tasks to complete together as a family. The results were video recorded surreptitiously to check for team behavior between parents.
•    In phase two of the study, one year after phase one, the mother, as well as a preschool teacher of each child, reported each child’s behavior through a questionnaire.

•    Results showed that less supportive parenting between two parents was associated with lower levels of “effort control” and higher “externalizing behaviors.”
•    However, lower “effortful control” was not associated with higher “externalizing behavior” if there was higher supportive parenting between mother and father.
•    Authors found, “results indicate that supportive co-parenting served as a buffer for children with low ‘effortful control.'”

Authors agree that there were some limitations to this study. One was that the study did not explore the exact mechanism by which supportive parenting could protect against “externalizing behavior,” even in children with low control. Also, this study did not take into consideration the type of parenting and the marital relation between parents. They also suggest that future studies that look at parenting behaviors over longer periods could yield more insights into the problem.

This is the first study that has shown that parenting behaviors have a significant effect in controlling behavioral problems in children. The study concludes that good co-parenting can protect a child from behavioral problems even if there is a lack of effective control. This could mean that new methods of parenting could be adopted, for children who are at a higher risk of behavioral problems and attention deficit problems, to help them adjust in a more positive manner. The development of this type of supportive parenting technique could also establish the “role of the family environment in theoretical models of children’s socioemotional development.”

For More Information:
Relations Between Coparenting and Father Involvement in Families With Preschool-Age Children
Publication Journal: Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 2009
By Sarah J. Schoppe-Sullivan; Arielle H. Weldon; Ohio State University

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.