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Co-parenting to support a child's psychological wellbeing

Divorce rates in the U.S. hover around 50 percent, which means many kids grow up between two homes. And research has established links between divorce and psychological problems including anxiety and depression.

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While divorce or separation is not necessarily the cause of mental illness, the way a family deals with transition can be. Co-parenting has a profound impact on children's mental health. In this post, we discuss how to avoid mixing emotions about the end of your relationship and parenting during transition and beyond.

How issues develop

Each family is unique and each child will react differently to the news that his or her parents are separating. For some, this news and the conflict between parents as they negotiate child custody and visitation (called conservatorship in Texas) schedules could be the tipping point to something serious.

For example, a high school student who hasn't show signs of depression might refuse to get out of bed to attend school. For a younger child, regression in toilet training or waking more times throughout the night might indicate anxiety.

How parents work together to resolve problems can be key. Negative components of co-parenting - undermining, negative talk and anger (possibly tied to hurt suffered when the romantic relationship ended) - can exacerbate the situation. Support and agreement while often harder to achieve on a practical level can improve mental health. Family and individual counseling during the divorce or separation process may help.

One local resource that could be a start

In the Houston area, the courts oftentimes refer parents to co-parenting classes. Whether mandated or not, the Putting Kids First program can help provide resources and tools as you adjust to a new reality.

Some of the benefits of a course can include:

  • Ensuring children's needs come first during transition
  • Developing conflict resolution skills, because even after you have a custody order, problems can arise
  • Learning how to maintain strong parental bonds that straddle two homes

To protect the long-term stability of your child or children, you need formal child custody and child support court orders, but this does not have to be a long, drawn-out battle. Speak with a family law attorney about getting necessary protections in place.

You may not be able to stand the other parent, but you need to wall off these emotions from your children. Avoid negative comments and look for ways to partner as parents. How you co-parent will affect the mental health of your child or children.

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