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Why working as a parenting team may not always be good for your child

A new study by University of Sussex psychologists has discovered that when a mother engages in harsh parenting techniques, a father who fails to support the use of those techniques is potentially vital in helping to reduce the impact of such behaviour upon a child.

It had been widely assumed that coparenting – which describes the way that adults work together in their role as parents – is only ever beneficial for the development of the child when it is of a high quality. Such high-quality coparenting includes sharing child-rearing values and actions that support a coparent’s parenting efforts.

However, in their study of 106 twin families with mothers and fathers both resident, Sussex researchers found that it isn’t quite as simple as that.

The paper, which appears in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry today (5 December), examined how the quality of coparenting and coercive parenting – a harsh discipline strategy characterised by shouting, smacking and scolding – work together in the development of children’s disruptive behaviour. 

Far from buffering children from their mothers’ harsh parenting techniques, high-quality coparenting actually exacerbated the negative effect of coercive parenting.

Dr Bonamy Oliver, senior researcher on the project, explains: “For mothers using harsh parenting strategies, having a partner who supports their parenting might not be such a good idea for their children’s development.

“Instead, for these mothers, perceiving the quality of coparenting to be low may be protective for children’s behavioural development, since ‘low-quality’ coparenting could mean having a partner who undermines them, or stops their coercive strategies.

“By failing to sanction her harsh parenting tactics, fathers reduce the child’s exposure to them and may show the child that this is not an acceptable way to behave.”

Rachel Latham, lead author of the paper, added that interventions which aim to enhance the quality of coparenting to improve children’s outcomes have caught the eye of policy-makers in recent years.

“Although low-quality coparenting is not optimal in most circumstances, our findings do suggest that any attempts by services to increase parents’ support of each other should be careful to consider the parenting going on in the home too.”

 


By: Patrick Reed
Last updated: Monday, 5 December 2016

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