Parenting fundamentals – The basics for co-parenting your children


Quick summary: I will very briefly outline what I have found to be the most common ideas shared in the immense amount of parenting literature out there. I will give you ideas to think about as you work with your partner to create a supportive environment for your children.


The Four Fundamental of Co-Parenting

  • Consistency
  • Unified front and spousal support
  • Emotional regulation on the part of the parent
  • Lead by Example


Balance is the goal – striving for perfection often puts a stress on the family system that can make things considerably more difficult for everyone.

  • It is impossible to do an activity at exactly the same time every day and there will be instances where you will have trouble maintaining “proper” composure… allow yourself to be normal and let forgiveness and acceptance influence your life… we all mess up and the sooner that you can accept your short coming and forgive your mistakes the sooner you can allow yourself to get back on track.


Open-mindedness – In short, rigidity can negate the positive benefits of all the following suggestions… open-mindedness and acceptance enables a family to be resilient and adaptable to the positive and negative changes which every family inevitably experiences.


Consistency – The boundaries, rules and daily schedules/routines should have a degree of consistency and predictability so that there is minimal confusion as to what the child should expect from the environment, from you, and from him/herself in relation to behavior.


Rules – it is very important that the child has the same rules despite which parent is supervising and it is very important that the rules stay the same despite the emotional disposition of the parent.

  • What are the rules surrounding: bedtime, eating, playing with friends, television, potential dangers, requesting toys/candy etc?


Consequences, rewards, warnings/reminders, and rule explanations – ideally you want all these variables to be consistent between the parents.


  • what are the consequences for behaviors such as hitting, stealing, yelling etc (note – timeouts seem to be the best consequences and it is always best to tell a child what behavior was wrong… avoid telling your child that they are inherently wrong or bad).


  • What are the rewards for honesty, sharing, patients etc (note – rewards generally should be a simple acknowledgment… you can do this with a hug or a positive comment).


  • In what instances does a child get a warning/reminder before a consequence (ex. sometimes it is perfectly fine for a child to run around and be a bit louder… in what situations will you deliver a reminder to, “quite down please?”)


  • In what situations is it best for you to tell your child what the expectations are before you enter the environment? (ex. – if you are going to go into the market, acknowledge that companies are spending billions of dollars manipulating the wants and desires of your child… tell you child ahead of time whether they can expect to be purchasing something).


Expectations – your child is growing, learning, and developing… we adults have a tendency to assume that children know more than is developmentally appropriate… tell your child your expectations, it is not a good idea to assume that they know and understand all the intricacies of their rules and schedules.


Unified Front – “united we stand… divided we fall” it is important that the child can see that you and your partner are a team and that you support each other in every way needed.

  • It is important that each partner meets the other partners relationship needs.
  • It is important that the adults always present important decisions to the child from a place of apparent agreement… This means that you come to conclusions and talk about important decisions away from the child and present the agreed upon decision together.
  • Statements such as, “I would let you go but your mother doesn’t think it is a good idea,” is never a good idea… do not let your child divide and conquer.


Most family therapist will say that the spousal or the adult partner relationship is the most important relationship in relation to successful parenting.

  • If the emotional, sexual, communicative, and cognitive needs of the parents are being met by their partner, the environment will be more nurturing to the child.
  • Simply put… it is very hard if not impossible to fully meet the needs of another (such as your child) if your own needs are not being met.


In order for you to fulfill the next parenting fundamental (emotional regulation of the parent) you will require emotional availability from your partner.

  • Emotions need to be accepted, understood, and expressed… if you have no emotional outlet it will be very difficult to not “overreact” with your children.
  • There are many things that should be expressed and experienced within your adult relationship that the children do not need to be aware of… create space for the adults to get adult needs met.
  • Again, this is not selfish… taking date night or uninterrupted alone time with your partner will benefit your children… your relational strength is the foundation they stand upon.


Emotional Regulation of the Parent – Children feed off your emotional energy and emotions are a huge part of all human communication.


By delivering rules, boundaries, expectations, and consequences with a degree of emotional neutrality you help your child to focus solely on the message.

  • If you set a boundary and you present as being excessively angry the child will be more focused on the emotion that you are communicating and less focused on the message you are trying to deliver.


Adults have emotions… this is very normal and of course you should not be a robot around your children… emotional regulation is mostly important when you are trying to teach your child something.


There are many adult experiences that children are blessed with not having to deal with… let your child be a child, if you are going through something that requires extra empathy and support it is best to seek out another adult.


If you have found that stress and anxiety are having a significant impact on your own wellbeing it would be in the best interest of everyone for you to courageously seek assistance… children are especially sensitive to the anxiety of their parents.

  • Sometimes children ‘act out’ or behave poorly as they are pleading for you to help them to live in a less stressful environment… it is no secret to the therapeutic community that relieving the stress, sadness, anxiety etc of the parent will very often ‘heal’ the disruptions of the child.


Lead by Example – your children will do as your do… model the behaviors which you wish to see in your children.


I actually took this suggestion from the field of nutrition… studies have found that if the parent doesn’t eat healthy… the child will not either. If you want your child to eat vegetables – eat vegetables. If you don’t want your child constantly asking to eat your chips – don’t keep the chips in your house. (My wife is a nutritionist –


This one is pretty self-explanatory so I will give you a few subjects to think about.


What does your behavior teach your child about: honesty, hitting, expressing emotions, eating habits, following rules, respecting elders, compassion, reliability, safety, communication, values, respect, health, exercise, hobbies, vices etc?




Was there something I missed?


What do you believe to be the fundamentals of parenting?

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.
William Hambleton Bishop
William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

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