Co-Parenting with PBS
Picture a child holding their hands over their ears, with two adults in the background. The child, looking distraught, turns around to face the adults, hits themselves, and runs into their bedroom. The adults have shared custody of the child and were arguing about how they should approach her behaviors at their respective homes. Each adult is different in their approach and cannot find common ground. If you are in a co-parenting relationship, you may have experienced a similar scenario.
Co-parenting is a relationship between two people who share the common goal of raising a child. Divorced or separated couples are the most commonly recognized co-parents, but co-parents come in many forms. A mother and a grandparent, and a father and his new partner are all examples of co-parents. In any form, co-parenting, like parenting, is aimed towards helping a child grow into the most successful version of themselves.
One method focused on this growth is called Positive Behavior Supports (PBS). PBS is a set of research-based strategies by making changes in the child’s surroundings and by teaching new skills. PBS combines valued outcomes, behavioral science, proven procedures, and changing approaches to reduce problem behaviors. Co- Parenting with PBS is a great strategy with a large focus on collaboration.
Stress, a significant barrier for all parents, has been known to affect how parents address behavior issues with their children. Conflicting co-parenting styles only adds unnecessary stress to a family. Parenting styles don’t have to be exactly the same, but there should be areas of common ground. Parenting plans that include PBS are a great way for both parents to come together and outline expectations from each other. Parenting plans address time-sharing, education, religious activities, extra-curricular activities, holidays, and co-parenting principles.
Collaboration and consistency are key to achieving ultimate outcomes for all families. Collaboration is achieved through communication. It involves both parents coming together to develop goals that incorporate multiple perspectives and can be adapted across multiple settings. This requires flexibility from both parents. To maximize collaboration between both parties, parents should:
1.Don’t sweat the small stuff and plan ahead.
For example, if your co-parent is consistently late to pick up your child, keep your cool by being prepared. Plan an hour-long activity for you and your child to do while waiting. If your co-parent is on time, thank them by using kind words and enjoy your extra hour of free time. Additionally, don’t arrange an important business meeting or a date shortly after your child has to be picked up. Planning beforehand for visitation exchanges can lead to less stressful situations and better co-parent interactions.
2.Give themselves credit and time to disconnect.
Encouraging self-talk is a powerful tool that can be used towards forming a positive self-image and achieving personal goals. Allow time to destress and let go of daily responsibilities. Some examples include exercising, listening to music, or even enjoying a special moment with your child. Finally, you need a support system. This can be a family member, a therapist, a friend, or support group that allows you to share your experiences, worries, and accomplishments.
We’d like to thank Chase and his wife, Cammryne, and their 2 ½ y/o daughter, Cora, for taking part in the interview.
3.Listen, be empathetic, and be present.
These ways of thinking promote mindfulness and emotional validation. Being aware of emotions and allowing yourself to feel them increases self-worth and helps to decrease anxiety. Just as we should allow our own emotions to be felt, it is equally important to make other people feel as though their emotions are valid. As a co-parent, it is important to remember that emotions are not always logical, but they deserve to be understood for what they are: important pieces of a co-parent’s reality.
4. Try to become a united front and create mutually agreed-upon goals.
Focus on the children and recognize their rights. They have the right to develop an independent and meaningful relationship with each parent. Set general guidelines that you can both agree upon. Some examples are limiting screen time and setting a consistent bedtime. Consistency in both households provides your child a sense of security, stability, and self-worth. Such commitments towards structure become even more important when co-parenting children diagnosed with any disability. Changes from one household to another have the potential to bring about problem behavior. It is important for both parents to come together to select and prioritize goals.
5. Create opportunities to foster open communication.
Communication may have been an issue during the relationship; however, it is critical to create opportunities to come together to navigate the co-parenting world. As difficult as it might be, try not to show anger or talk bad about your co-parent when your child is present. Remember, that person is still very important to your child. This type of talk can cause insecurities or even unnecessary resentment in a child. There shouldn’t be two teams that require a picking of sides when the overall goal of both parties is to benefit their child. Parents should focus on communicating with each other directly. Communication should occur regularly and especially when new problem behaviors begin.
6.Attend to things happening in the environment before problem behavior occurs.
Patterns can be identified and addressed across settings. To do so, it is important to notate what is happening in each environment before the behavior (the “antecedent”) as well as what happens immediately after the behavior (the “consequence”). An example is provided below:
7.Develop a plan to consistently address behaviors across settings.
Once a pattern is found, you can develop strategies to prevent problems, teach your child more appropriate ways to respond, and manage the results of their behavior to encourage only desired behavior. It may be best to look at how both parents can be proactive in their approach and teach skills to prevent behaviors of concern. For the example above, the parents may want to give a 5-minute warning for Bobby or use a timer to prevent whining. The parents could also teach Bobby that asking for more time politely will get him more time before brushing his teeth. Co-parents can work together to find consistent approaches they both will use.
8.Monitor the outcomes across settings and adjust accordingly.
Once it’s decided how you will address the behaviors and have begun tracking how often it continues to occur, co-parents should get together to evaluate the impact of their approach. Did the child react well to your approach, or did they react poorly? If they reacted poorly, how long was the problem episode? Over time, you may start to see patterns of how your child reacts to your approaches. It is healthy for children to be exposed to different perspectives and learn to be flexible, but they also need to understand the basic expectations are consistent across settings to avoid further frustration and confusion.
Successful co-parenting is a journey of perseverance, patience, and love. Enjoy your time with your children. They grow so fast, and at the end of the day you don’t want to have more regrets than loving memories. If you’re searching for some common ground with your co-parent, look no further than the love you share for your child.
Holly Downs is the Director of Ethical Compliance at PBS Corp. and an instructor at Capella University. She is a certified behavior analyst with over a decade of experience in various populations.