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Coparenting 101: 17 Helpful Strategies for Divorced Parents

Coparenting 101: 17 Helpful Strategies for Divorced Parents

When people separate or divorce, one of their biggest challenges is coparenting their children together. As a Marriage and Family Therapist in Chicago, I often see divorced parents struggle with how to raise their children together.

One parent has a certain set of rules, and the other does it completely differently. It can be a real challenge to navigate this part of the divorce process.

Yet over the years, I have seen couples successfully raise their children together after a divorce. It takes a little attention and focus, but there are number of key strategies that these divorced couples employ to make coparenting much easier.

1. Communicate clearly.

When couples who are able to communicate coparenting items easily and without much emotion, they get a lot of the work of parenting done quickly. Yet when their discussions about parenting items are filled with emotion, then it muddies the waters.

If you find yourself fighting with your ex about all sorts of coparenting issues, you might want to set up a method of communication which reduces the emotion.

Perhaps a dedicated email thread that only has parenting items might keep the channels of communication more clean.

2. Clarify rules.

Many families we see here at our practice in Chicago have different rules at different houses for their children. This can certainly work, but the rules need to be clearly defined by the parents.

Where children struggle is when they are unclear about what the rules of each house are, and then try to manipulate the rules to get their way.

Clear communication of what the expectations are at each house can go a long way towards creating balance and stability.

3. Get out of the past.

It is important to be sure that any lingering items from your marriage stay as much in the past as possible.

Of course there will by dynamics from the marital relationship that persist in the coparenting relationship, but couples benefit by bringing their relationship out of the past and trying to create new ways of interacting around parenting items.

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4. Don’t triangulate.

One of the more difficult dynamics that we see in Family Therapy is when couples triangulate their children.

Triangulation is when whatever is unresolved between the parents gets transmitted through their interactions with the children.

In other words, the parents hostility and tension gets absorbed by the children and the children start acting it out. It can be very confusing when this happens, and Family Therapy can significantly help when this dynamic occurs.

5. Bless and release.

One thing that troubles a lot of people after a break up or divorce is that they continually hold on to old grudges or complaints.

In order to coparent more effectively, it can be helpful to bless and release your ex. This mean wishing them well and letting go of old hurts.

Can you hope for our ex that they have all good things and find the life and love that they are looking for? This sort of neutrality can go a long way with coparenting from a more balanced place.

6. Practice mindful parenting.

Many experts will tell parents to try to stay more calm than their child. If you are anxious, stressed and angry, then your child may become those things too.

Coparenting with an ex adds another layer of difficulty and potentially upsetting emotions. It is important to practice being mindful of your anxiety, stress and anger levels when parenting, and also when interacting with your coparent.

Finding ways to stay relaxed and put things in perspective can help.

7. Develop a support network.

Having a good team of trusted people in your corner can help to make sure you don’t feel alone in the process of coparenting. Talking with other parents who are divorced or separated might help you feel less alone in the process.

Additionally, having a trusted counselor or therapist in your corner who can help you look at your blind spots, can make a big difference.

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8. Practice presence.

Staying in the moment when parenting can be a useful thing whether you are coparenting, doing it alone, or alongside your partner.

Our minds can race all over the place when we are managing a lot of things in our family life. Yet taking time to stay in the moment and be present with your child will help calm and stabilize the situation.

If you are worried about future events, or stressed about what happened before, it takes you out of the present, which can be full of opportunities for meaningful experiences with your child.

9. Practice “I” statements.

A lot of couples will get in trouble by blaming their ex in front of their child. It can be difficult for them not to criticize their ex, or say something disparaging. Yet this can have a negative impact on the child.

Instead of pointing the finger, it helps to practice “I” statements. Talk about your frustration and how you get overwhelmed by difficult situations rather than commenting on how your ex made mistakes or is selfish.

Talking about your own experience helps you own your own power in the situation.

10. Learn to compromise.

If coparents are constantly arguing about their schedules, money, or what the rules are, then it can cause a very hostile and chaotic environment for the children.

Yet couples who learn to work together and compromise on the endless, daily family items that need to be negotiated, end up creating a more stable and calm environment for their children.

Even if you insist that you should have the children on a particular holiday because your ex had them the previous year, being willing to compromise and make alternate arrangements can pay off in the long run.

11. Give a little.

Coparents who are generous with one another, even if they are still upset about their breakup, help create an environment of wellbeing in their family.

If your coparent asks for a random extra weekend with the children, and you know that it is your turn that weekend, being generous and giving a little can go a long way towards generating good will.

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Withholding and counting each fairness and unfairness creates a less generous and more stingy family environment.

Of course you don’t want to compromise yourself and give over too much, but keeping on the lookout for when you can give just a bit more, can help the wellbeing of everyone involved.

12. Talk with your children.

Parents who worry about the potentially negative influence that their ex will have on their children do well by talking more with their kids.

If you are worried about what your ex might say to your child, it helps to have a good, open line of communication with the child such that you can better understand how they see the world.

It helps if they can talk with you about their confusion or any conflicting messages that they hear from their other parent.

13. Leverage your relationship.

Your child is hard wired to want to connect with you. Parents do well to know that the greatest influence that they have on their child is their relationship with them.

Your children are attached to you, and even if they act as if they want nothing to do with you, they are still wired for your approval and care.

Finding ways to leverage the inherent attachment can help create the sort of life that you’d like for your child.

14. Attract, don’t pursue.

Don’t overly pursue a connection with your child, but instead attract their interest to connect with you. When parents are too eager to chase a child who is distancing, then the child will often distance more.

Building on the inherent attachment that your child has with you, try to find ways to create harmonious and connected moments rather than asking them tons of questions and trying desperately to create closeness.

15. Open up.

Share more with your child about what you love, and what you are passionate about. Children who hear more about what parents care about tend to follow their own passions.

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Think about how many famous athletes or musicians children are also athletes or musicians. Children tend to follow the lead of their role models, and if you share what you love, then might emulate that pursuit themselves.

This can go a long way towards creating a lasting bond that can withstand any tension in a coparenting relationship.

16. Embrace change.

A lot of coparents have hidden regrets or live in the past. They wish their family situation could be different, but don’t know how to make it better.

Embracing change can help us move out of past hurts and regrets and find new ways to create the sort of changes we are looking for.

Perhaps you can find new ways to interact with your ex that might foster new family dynamics.

17. Make room for new possibilities.

A lot of divorced or separated couples that I work with tend to become hopeless about anything new happening in the family dynamic. They see patterns of interaction repeat themselves over and over, and they anticipate it will continue this way forever.

Yet if there is one thing we can count on is that things will eventually change. Making room in your mind for new possibilities can alleviate some of the hopelessness that sometimes comes with difficult coparenting situations.

Yes you are divorced, but It is indeed possible to be good coparents. Communication and patience go hand in hand if you want to raise happy and healthy kids as a divorced parent.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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David Klow

Marriage and Family Therapist and Author

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Published on October 21, 2020

3 Ways to Motivate Your Child to Learn And Grow Positively

3 Ways to Motivate Your Child to Learn And Grow Positively

It was August 2007, and I was in a corner coaching my 8-year-old son. We were inside the Modern Sports Arena in Karlsruhe, Germany. Sam was in front of hundreds of people cheering, fighting for his first “World Kickboxing Title” in the under 25KG weight class.

Our journey getting to this point was a twisty road of arguments, tantrums, and growth for me and my son, Sam. On reflection, there were some motivational nuggets that, fortunately, I was able to apply in time to help our relationship grow positively.

From our journey, I’m going to share three key takeaways in motivating your child.

As a martial arts coach, I want to help my students improve their skills, techniques, and mindset. There’s a popular strategy for doing this. When you see a mistake in a student, correct it and help the student build good habits through repetition.

This sounds logical and straight forward—so does good parenting, but the approach is majorly flawed. Publicly correcting someone is the lowest form of human emotion—shame. What we are doing is publicly shaming the student and putting them into a negative mindset.

At home, we are privately shaming our kids and putting them into a defensive mindset. Our first strategy has to be the polar opposite.

1. Constantly Catch Your Child Doing Something Right

This reinforces the positive behavior you want to see. It does not mean you should never correct your child because there’s always going to be a need for this.

Think of your child as a bank account. If you constantly catch them in the moment of doing great things, you make a deposit. Every time you correct them, you make a withdrawal. It’s easier to swallow the withdrawals if there’s already a healthy balance in your kid’s emotional account.

If Sam had already heard “great effort on the pads” or “that kick was 100% accurate”, he was much happier hearing “keep your hand up when punching” if this was a key coaching point.

Tony Robbins has a great quote for this:

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Energy flows where attention goes.

Once you start looking for the great stuff your kids are doing, you’ll start to see more great stuff and this builds positive energy while interacting with them.

Being a parent is hard, but being their coach as well makes the relationship a lot more complicated. You have two hats to wear. So, on the days that they don’t feel like training, it can hit you two times in the face.

The secret here is to empower your child with choices, not ultimatums.

2. Choices, Not Ultimatums

Ultimatums come so very naturally to us when we’re tired. “Sam, grab your kit bag and get in the car or you’re banned from Nintendo for a week” is so easy to say when they do not want to train.

We are parents. We know what’s best for them, so we use ultimatums to reinforce our control, right? However, it’s usually our inner monkey voice that speaks when we give these ultimatums, so we’re not really in control at any point.

Instead, I’ll take a deep breath, clear my head, and say “Sam, we’re off training in 15 minutes. Do you want to get your kit in the car now or finish your game first?” It’s a subtle difference but with a choice like this, you’re taking “no” out of the equation and empowering your child to make a responsible decision.

You probably think that using your authority keeps you in control, but it’s a thin illusion. Nobody appreciates being told to stop what they are doing to do something else. It discounts their opinions as worthless, and they’ll resent your instruction.

The chore may get done, but you can feel the negative energy, and the task is never performed in a way that would make you feel satisfied.

There’s an opportunity to implement this approach all the time, and it builds a healthy relationship.

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“Would you like broccoli or cauliflower?” “Would you prefer to do your homework on Saturday or Sunday?”

When coaching my son Sam, I was getting much better results from applying this strategy. It could be as straightforward as “Do you want to work on your punching or kicking today?” or “Do you want to train on Saturday or Sunday this week?”

This could make all the difference to how the session started, with lots of positive energy right from the go.

The last tip is the hardest one to swallow as a parent. It’s all about us.

3. Monkey See, Monkey Do!

Kids mimic their parents—from how they talk to how they behave and act. We have a much bigger influence on our kids on what we tell them to do.[1] They’ll copy our attitudes, mannerisms, and so much more. This means that what motivates our children involves what we do as parents.

At first, we might think this is great. The big “but” is that they do not copy the characteristics that we want them to. They seem to focus on our bad ones and magnify them by a factor of 10.

I’m always learning how to be a better parent and coach. Just because I’ve been driving a car for over 25 years does not mean that I’m good at it. Many drivers spent a few months learning to drive, then repeat the same driving mistakes each year ongoing. If you’ve ever tried to teach your child to drive, you’ll understand how many changes there are from when you learned and how many mistakes you make that your kids are very happy to point out as well.

Telling them to ”do what I say and not what I do” is not going to win that discussion. If you want your child to be more confident. What have you done lately that demonstrates your confidence?

If you want your child to grow their self-esteem. Do you complain about wrinkles, waistline, or something else consistently within earshot? If you want your child to be a world champion in kickboxing, what are you doing to demonstrate excellence to your child?

The point here is that we all have room for improvement. You’re reading this article, so you care about developing as a parent.

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Laura Markham, Ph.D., author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, says that kids “may not always do what we say, but they will always, eventually, do what we do.” So, most of what children learn about how to behave is from what we model. That’s why regardless of what you consciously teach your child, they will learn more from what they live with.

My challenge to you is to list 3 ways you can be a better role model for your kids and take action to follow this plan.

4. Bonus Tip: How to Supercharge These 3 Tips

There is one old school method of positive motivation that is much debated by scientists and parents: the power of extrinsic motivation or rewards.

Every parent has their opinion on this. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • “You can have your dessert when you sit still and finish your dinner.” Did the child sit still?
  • “You can have a happy meal after we visit the doctor for your booster”
  • “You can play on your console if you do your homework”

The idea makes sense—reward a less appealing task with a more pleasurable experience. This is known as extrinsic motivation.

The problem with this approach is what Vanessa LoBue Ph.D. refers to as the “what will you give me for it” or “what’s in it for me?” attitude that we’ll develop in our kids.

But there is a subtle difference that makes all the difference that came out of the study made by Lepper, R. M., Greene. D., Nisbett. E. R. This was a study on preschool-aged children using a fun drawing activity. This is an activity that kids would be happy to perform without being instructed to do so.

Kids were encouraged to play with markers. One group was told they would receive rewards like gold certificates if they played with the markers. The other group was not told about any rewards, but some of the children still received them as a surprise for their efforts.

The outcome was that the children expecting the reward was significantly less motivated in performing the task than the children who were not told about the rewards or received one as a surprise.

Within this study lays the magic ingredient for motivating our kids to learn and grow positively. Promising rewards can actually reduce the joy of performing a task or intrinsic motivation.[2] But like the kids in the study, receiving an unexpected reward can positively reinforce the behaviors that we want to see.

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When you combine this with the above strategies. You’ll supercharge the results.

For me, when coaching my son. He was always going to get a happy meal after training. I’m a cool dad and like to treat my kids, but the timing of the treat makes all the difference.

When I stopped him immediately after performing a skill well that we’ve been working on and said:

“Sam, that punch was world-class. It was like the Bruce Lee Back Fist in ‘Enter the Dragon,’ and it helped me fall in love with martial arts all over again”. “Your choice—happy meal or subway, after class. You’ve earned it”.

I saw a smile on my child’s face that is priceless.

    Here, I’m combing tip number 1—constantly catch your child doing something right with an extrinsic reward. This is a powerful parenting tool. You just need to find a good compliment and match a good reward with the right timing.

    When it came to Sam’s last round in the world championships, fighting for a World Title in the under 25kg category, he did not win the Gold Medal. However, we both learned more about good parenting and Sam has some great lessons to pass on when it’s his time to raise kids of his own.

    Final Thoughts

    Someone once told me that when you read a good book over again, you don’t find anything new in the book—you just find something in you that you did not notice before.

    Just taking the time to read an article like this will help you look deep within yourself and learn how to motivate your child positively.

    It’s now 18 years since I started this journey with Sam to become a world champion. He never quite managed to win the title but took national champion and an international bronze medal for kickboxing. But by the age of 21, he is leaving university with ‘no debt,’ owning his first house and a pet axolotl called ‘Boba’.

    If you can successfully find the right approach to positively motivate your child, it will be transformational.

    More Tips on Motivating Your Child

    Featured photo credit: Mike Fox via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Psychology Today: How Do Children Learn Right From Wrong?
    [2] Psychology Today: Motivating Children Without Rewards

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