Helping Children By Keeping Conflict Out of Co-Parenting Relationships

April 4th, 2023

Helping Children By Keeping Conflict Out of Co-Parenting Relationships

By Andy Scholz and Heather Rooney McBride

In contentious family law cases, it is common to see parents who need improvement when it comes to co-parenting. Parents are often unable to set their feelings aside, and conflict arises in a way that decreases their ability to work together for the benefit of the children.


Effective co-parenting is necessary because it helps lower children’s stress and anxiety levels. It can also help reduce the conflicts between parents that negatively impact their children and provides the stability to help children thrive. Studies show that children can develop a range of psychological, physical, and behavioral symptoms when exposed to parental conflicts. When children observe their parents treat each other disrespectfully, they grow up learning it is acceptable to behave this way toward loved ones.


Here are some common mistakes when co-parenting:


  • Pumping children for information about the other parent. Doing this puts the child in the middle and places unnecessary stress on him or her. A better idea is to ask your child how his or her day was and what kind of fun things the child did when they were with the other parent.


  • Sharing divorce case information and other inappropriate details about the other parent with children. Doing this will cause the child anxiety and confusion. It can also make the child feel like he or she must choose sides or take on adult responsibilities.


  • Making the child the messenger. This causes anxiety and can create a situation whereby the child is forced to negotiate a situation the child’s parents cannot handle.


  • Being rigid with the parenting schedule. Flexibility is key to good co-parenting. While consistent co-parenting is an important part of helping your kids know what to expect, you do not have to do everything exactly the same way at all times. Your kids are smart enough and flexible enough to handle some variation. So as long as the homework is getting done, consider letting go of the ‘where’ and ‘when.’


  • Fighting in front of the children. Witnessing regular fights between parents can trigger early anxiety issues and other mental health problems in children. It can also make the child insecure about his or her status, safety, and welfare. Growing up around these things fundamentally changes a child’s brain by conditioning the child to exist in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’. Studies have shown this can impact a child in the same way someone can be emotionally damaged by war or natural disaster.


Here are some tips to make co-parenting work better:


  • Communicate with each other regularly. It is important to maintain communication with your co-parent using a medium that works for both of you. If one parent is not good at writing emails or text messages, call him or her on the phone.


  • Establish ground rules, and try to stick to a consistent schedule. If the child goes to bed at one parent’s home at eight, try to have the same schedule at the other home. Communicate with respect and civility. Write your emails or texts to the other parent as if you are communicating with a co-worker or friend.


  • Make sure your disagreements are private. Fighting on Facebook or other social media will inevitably get back to the children.


  • Don’t leave your co-parent out of the loop. Consider using a co-parenting app such as OurFamilyWizard. Do everything in your power to make sure the other parent has equal access to information at schools and hospitals.


  • Never bad-mouth the other parent if the child is in the home. Children can and will spy on you to try and hear adult conversations.


  • Avoid talking about new romantic relationships until an agreement has been reached with the co-parent regarding the introduction of the new partner.


  • Be flexible and willing to compromise. During times of litigation or anticipated litigation, remember that entrenchment in your position can cause unwarranted stress on everyone, including the children.


  • Seek professional help if needed. You can speak with a licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, or pastoral counselor. You can also consider therapy for high conflict co-parenting counseling if you are having difficulties working through simple issues.


  • Consistently and genuinely put your children first, no matter what.


If you are having trouble as a co-parent, do not lose hope. The dynamic of every relationship has the capacity to change for the better. If you are willing to take mindful steps toward improvement, both parents can get better. The work is worth it because it will improve your child’s quality of life and health well into the future. If you are having trouble navigating the difficult waters of a child custody case, please contact the attorneys at Rooney McBride and Smith, LLC to schedule a consultation.