Dr. Amy Stark
Child Psychologist, Author & Speaker
Teaching Families How to Live Divorced
and Self-Esteem for Girls
Food For Thought
The Importance of Co-Parenting
Children need rules, structure , boundaries and consistency to be healthy and well-adjusted adults. Sometimes when couples divorce, they lose sight of the big picture and forget that they need to come to terms about parenting for the sake and well being of their children. If you are not very careful, your children become pawns in the revenge cycle that often happens during the divorce proceedings. One parent might feel that they would rather not discipline during their limited time with the kids, undermining the other parents limits by allowing breaches of rules at their home to be seen by the kids as the cool or understanding parent. One parent might choose not to involve the other in important decisions about the children, sometimes even neglecting to inform them of decisions made, under the guise of believing that they will not cooperate so why involve them? All of this lack of cooperation spells disaster to your child.
There are some basic rules of thumb to consider when you make a parenting plan. The following are some of the areas you should consider as basic to making a plan that will lead to consistency for your child.
1. Education is important. Both of you need to work together to make sure that your child knows that one of the things you both agree upon is school. You should both attend parent teacher conferences, back to school night and open house. Homework should be done every night, with time made for reading. Both of you should be regularly checking the daily planner (or binder reminder, as some schools call it), to make sure that assignments are written down and your child completes them. As your child gets older there will be more and more long term projects, such as the infamous mission report or state report. Teachers expect these reports to be done, whether your child has parents who are divorced or not. Help your child out by making deadlines along the way and coordinating efforts with the other parent. Additionally, if your child has special needs, it is vital that you both present a united front to the school district so that you can insure that your child's needs are met.
2. Your child's medical, dental and psychological health should be planned and agreed upon. Both of you should know the name of the medical doctor and have an ongoing relationship with him or her. Routine visits should be shared within 24 hours, making sure that the medication is given and any follow up recommendations shared. In the event of an emergency, call the other parent from the emergency room. They have a right to support your child during a medical crisis and your child needs to know that they are supported in their health by both parents. Dental health is equally important. I am constantly shocked by parents who have not taken their children to the dentist in several years, only to discover a mouth full of cavities. You can rotate who takes the kids to their six month exams so that you both have the opportunity to speak with the dentist about your child's teeth, including whether or not braces will be necessary. Psychological health is also important. Divorce is hard on kids. If you see that your child is experiencing some distress, depression or behavioral issues, seek therapy as soon as possible. Make sure that both of you are involved in the process. In this way you can be part of the solution.
3. Household rules are important. When children go back and forth between houses it causes them less distress when parents can create some consistency. Kids need a bedtime and a consistant bedtime ritual. They should be sleeping on their own and not with you. They should be taking a bath or shower at the very minimum of every other day. They should be brushing their teeth three times a day and even flossing. Chores are a good idea. If they are only at your house for a weekend, do not load them up with chores, it is not fair. They can however, be expected to pick up their things, make the bed, leave the room picked up, put clothes in a hamper and set and clear the table. Electronic rules are a must. If your child has a My Space, it must be checked on a weekly basis by you. Get on the site with your child and discuss what they have posted. Make sure that they can only have contact with their friends. Restrict video game time, computer time and television time during the school week. Homework and reading must come first.
4. Discipline should be the same at both houses. There should be no hitting or spanking. Physical discipline means you have waited too long to take action. Do not discipline when you are angry or frustrated. If you can not demonstrate cool headedness and control, you will be teaching your child how to over react instead of handling their anger properly. Instead, consider the one minute scolding in conjunction with time outs for younger kids and restriction for the older teens. Electronic restriction is very powerful. For big infractions of rules, consider a time out or restriction that is done by both parents at both houses.
5. Manners and values are so very important in any child's upbringing. Even parents in a divorce need to take the time to teach their child how to act in public. Often parents either feel they do not have enough time with their child or feel overwhelmed by the daunting task of being a single parent. Your child needs to know not to interrupt you when you are speaking. They must know how to act in a restaurant... including, but not limited to, holding silverware properly, using a napkin and using an indoor voice in a public place. They should know how to order food in a polite way. They should be able to say please and thank you.
6. Don't be afraid to get professional help if you and you ex can not work cooperatively together. Seek the help of a court savvy co parenting therapist to assist you to make things smoother for your child.
Dr. Stark's Web site is not intended to take the place of a court-ordered advice or the advice of another professional. Although you may use the input found here to your best advantage, we recommend that you do so in conjunction with the work that you are doing with your individual therapist. Remember: this Web site is not therapy; it's knowledge and support.
Psychologist License PSY7828, California213 E City Place Drive
Santa Ana, CA 92705