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Co-Parenting Well: The Do's & Don'ts of Effective Co-Parenting

Updated: Jul 3

Research indicates that children benefit significantly from a unified parenting approach, which contributes to their overall well-being. For parents who are separated, divorced, or sharing custody, the challenges of co-parenting can be substantial and stressful for everyone involved. Effective co-parenting relies on collaborative interactions between both parents. If one parent is nurturing while the other is neglectful, or if one is too permissive and the other too strict, children are more likely to struggle mentally and emotionally.

Successful co-parenting requires empathy, patience, and open communication—qualities that can be difficult to maintain after marital conflict or relationship breakdown. However, focusing solely on the children's needs can transform co-parenting into a positive experience. Here are some effective problem-solving tips and approaches to help make co-parenting effective.


Keep a Child-Focused Approach: At its core, co-parenting involves both parents working together to raise their children despite not being in a romantic relationship. For this to be successful, it's important that despite any ill-feelings parents may have toward each other, they are able to put them aside for the benefit of their children and maintain a child-focused approach to co-parenting.

Keep Communication Open: Maintaining an open communication with your co-parent is essential for your child's well-being. Always speak about your ex with respect and avoid arguing in front of your child to prevent them from feeling responsible for parental conflict.

Establish a Parenting Plan: Creating a parenting plan provides structure and stability for your child. It outlines care and living arrangements, schedules, decision-making, and more, ensuring both parents know their responsibilities. Clear communication and mutual agreement are essential to developing a plan that meets your child's needs and respects both parents' roles. A consistent parenting plan helps minimise conflicts and offers your child a secure environment.

Stay Consistent: Research shows that children in homes with a unified approach to parenting have greater well-being. Where possible, be consistent in schedules, determining drop-off and pick-up duties, setting bedtimes, behavioural expectations, rules, and establishing discipline. Children thrive on structure, so having some consistency across both homes provides a sense of security and predictability.

Promote Positive Talk: Make it a rule to speak positively about your co-parent in front of the children and discourage any disrespectful talk about them. Recognise and reinforce the different strengths each parent brings to the table. This fosters a respectful environment and teaches children to appreciate both parents.

Extended Family Plan: Create an extended family plan, negotiating and agreeing on the role and access extended family members will have. This ensures that both families are on the same page about involvement and boundaries.

Adaptability and Flexibility: Co-parenting is challenging, and often requires adaptability. Remember, the goal is to meet your children’s needs, not your co-parent’s preferences. When you and your co-parent are both able to maintain a certain level of adaptability, flexibility, and a willingness to compromise, it will ultimately benefit your children.

Maintain a United Front: Although you may have different approaches or perspectives when it comes to parenting, it's always best for the children when parents are able to maintain open communication and present a united front when it comes to major parenting decisions.

Keep Each Other Updated: Although it may be emotionally challenging, it's important to inform your co-parent about changes in your life or circumstances that may affect your child, and keep them updated on your child's health, education, and well-being. It’s important that your child isn’t the primary source of information or used as a messenger between parents.

Be Patient: As a new co-parent, adjusting to the new situation can take some time for your entire family. If someone is struggling, try to be patient and keep a positive outlook. This can also help to show your kids that you are focused on raising them and making them feel loved.


Don’t Burden Your Child: Avoid involving your child in emotionally charged issues or using them to gather information about your co-parent. Children should never be exposed to conflict or made to feel like they are in the middle of adult issues. Allow your children to be children, don't use them as a pawn or make them feel like they need to choose between their parents. This may cause loyalty conflicts and inflict emotional distress.

Don't Bad Mouth Your Ex: Avoid speaking negatively about your ex in front of your child, as this can confuse and upset them. Children often identify with their parents, so negative comments can make them feel "bad" too, leading to emotional trauma. Instead, reinforce positive similarities. Saying your child is "creative like their mum" can boost their pride and self-esteem, while negative comparisons can be hurtful and confusing. Focus on fostering a positive connection between your child and both parents to support their emotional well-being.

Don't Try to Squeeze Out Your Ex: Avoid actions or behaviours that might undermine your ex's role or presence in your child's life. Unless otherwise stated in a parenting agreement, both parents should be given equal opportunities to spend time with and care for their children, attend school and extracurricular activities, and be involved in decision making.

Keep Your Personal Life Private: Remind yourself that when it comes to communicating with your co-parent, you only have to share information about your co-parenting responsibilities and child. Communication with your co-parent should focus on your co-parenting relationship and your child's welfare and needs - not the feelings, wants, or personal life of either parent.

Don't Discuss Your Past or New Relationships: The only relationship that needs to be discussed between you and your co-parent is your relationship with your child. There's no need to revisit your past romantic relationship or old issues from when you were together. Likewise, you don't have to share details about your current romantic life or new relationships. As long as both of you are fulfilling your parenting responsibilities in a healthy manner that respects your parenting arrangement, other relationships don't need to be a topic of conversation.

Don’t Jump to Conclusions: If your child tells you something concerning about your co-parent, take a breath and remain neutral. Understand that children’s perceptions can be influenced by emotions, and it’s often best to take such comments with a grain of salt.

Don’t Be Unbalanced: Resist the urge to be the “fun” parent who disregards rules and responsibilities. This approach can lead to resentment and instability. Children thrive best with a balanced mix of fun, structure, and predictability. Remember that co-parenting is not a competition between parents, but a collaboration between parents.

Don’t Succumb to Guilt: Divorce or separation can bring about feelings of guilt, but overindulging your child to compensate is harmful. Recognise the difference between need and want, and maintain limits. Overindulgence can lead to entitlement and a lack of empathy in children.

Don’t Undermine Your Co-Parent: Avoid allowing your child to escape rules, routine, and responsibilities to spite your co-parent. Consistency in rules and expectations is crucial for your child’s development and well-being.

Don’t Accuse, Discuss: If you have concerns about your co-parent’s approach, discuss them calmly and focus on your child’s best interest. Avoid interrogating your co-parent or using accusatory language, and especially avoid badmouthing them to your children. Instead, use neutral language, focus on facts rather than feelings, and work towards finding solutions together. Communication is vital for healthy co-parenting.

Don't Make Unilateral Decisions: Conflict can arise when one parent acts unilaterally to make decisions about their child without consulting the other parent. This exclusion restricts cooperations and interferes with the child-centric shared responsibility of co-parenting.

Don't Neglect Yourself: Self-care plays a significant role in co-parenting effectively. Lean on the people in your life for support, maintain connections, engage in hobbies, actively care for your own health and well-being. When things get hard, don't be afraid to reach out to a professional for additional support. Taking care of yourself is healthy and it'll help you show up for your children in the long run.

Parallel Parenting - An Alternative to Co-Parenting

There are certain situations where co-parenting proves especially difficult. This might be due to high conflict between parents, or situations where the relationship has ended due to a significant betrayal in trust, for example. In situations like this, co-parenting might seem impossible, but there are steps that you can take to decrease some of the stress and emotional toll.

Parallel parenting is an alternative to co-parenting, designed for situations where high conflict makes traditional co-parenting difficult. In parallel parenting, each parent operates independently while adhering to agreed-upon guidelines and schedules, minimising direct interaction to reduce conflict. To learn more about parallel parenting, take a look at our blog post: Parallel Parenting - An Alternative to Co-Parenting

When Professional Support Can Help

Parenting is never easy, and navigating a co-parenting arrangement with your ex can come with its own set of unique challenges, often determined by your previous relationship. Individual counselling can help you understand your co-parenting role and help you to cope with the changes. If you and your ex are struggling to co-parent due to disagreements and conflict, family therapy can be beneficial. If in-person appointments are difficult to schedule, consider online therapy options. Both you and your ex can attend sessions from your own homes.

At Hills Relationship Centre, we offer both individual counselling, separation counselling, and family therapy. We understand that each situation is unique and therefore are committed to working with individuals, parents, and children to support you on your journey to a healthy and effective co-parenting relationship. We can also help to guide you in the right direction if extra support, such as mediation or legal services are required.

Disclaimer: There are certain situations where co-parenting is not possible or recommended, for example, in situations where there has been family or domestic violence, or when one parent has an active substance addiction. In these situations, it is always best to seek professional support to ensure the safety of you and your children.

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