The No. 1 Thing That Makes Co-Parenting Successful: Your Kids Will Be More ‘Well-Adjusted'

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The way moms and dads view each other as co-parents can affect how well adjusted their kids are, according to a study recently published in the Society for Research in Child Development

The study surveyed  2,915 low-income couples in seven states, all of whom had children younger than age 5.

Kids who were the most well adjusted tended to have two parents who had a positive view of the co-parenting relationship. In the case of a mother having a less positive view about co-parenting than the father, kids also tended to be well adjusted.

But, conversely, when the father was less positive than the mother about the idea of co-parenting, the child suffered

Co-parenting is challenging and talking to your child about its process is tricky. But there are ways to do it so your child thrives, says Irina Gorelik,  a child psychologist at Williamsburg Therapy Group.

"The goal is not to have a perfect co-parenting situation, but to try to maintain an open dialogue between parents as well as with their child so that if and when changes or challenges come up, there is a family culture of working through them as a unit," she says.

Gorelik talked to CNBC Make It about the skills you need to work on if you want to co-parent a successful child. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

How to co-parent a successful, well-adjusted kid

Aditi Shrikant: What are some skills you should learn if you want to co-parent a child to be successful and well adjusted?

Irina Gorelik: Some of the main skills to practice include effective communication, setting clear expectations as well as clear boundaries. These skills apply to both the co-parents as well as the parent-child relationships.

Kids, and adults, thrive in settings where they feel safe. Having consistency in the environments they find themselves in will help them feel secure. 

In co-parenting relationships, this may look like having a schedule of when each parent is with the child, maintaining similar rules in each home, and notifying the child about what might change or look different on an ongoing basis. 

It is also important to model positive and healthy communication about the other parent in front of the child, when possible.

Shrikant: This can be pretty hard sometimes. What risks does your child face if they do hear some negativity from you? 

Gorelik: Oftentimes when co-parents have a conflictual dynamic, kids end up caught in the middle of their conflicts. Parents who are often stressed and frustrated or resentful may tend to inappropriately overshare with their child or talk negatively about the other parent in a way that is not appropriate for the child. 

This may lead to the child thinking that they have to choose sides or take care of their parents emotionally. 

When parents engage in this behavior consistently, this may lead to a pattern called "parentification," where children end up switching roles with the parent and may feel that they need to take care of the parent, emotionally or otherwise.

'Encouraging ongoing dialogue can help children feel included'

Shrikant: What are other things to do, and not do, to reinforce a stable, positive environment for your child?

Gorelik: Talking to kids about co-parenting depends on where the child is developmentally, as well as their awareness of the family changes that have led to parents choosing to co-parent. For most children, there may be uneasy feelings surrounding impending changes that they are not aware of and are out of their own control.

Talking to kids about these changes and encouraging ongoing dialogue can help children feel included and be able to explore their worries. 

It can be helpful to read a children's book about separation or co-parenting with your child. These books can facilitate some of the conversation and elicit examples to help the child feel less alone with emotions that may come up for them. One book I like to read with elementary-aged children is "Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide for Changing Families."

It can be also helpful to remind the child about things that will not change, such as the bond between the child and each parent. To encourage ongoing discussion, it can be helpful to let the child know that it is always OK to ask questions and share their feelings as things change. 

However, it is important to try to avoid pressuring the child to talk about this since they may not be ready or willing to right away. 

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