When mothers and fathers support each other as parents, their pre-school children are less likely to develop "acting out" behaviours.
"Supportive co-parenting involves warmth and co-operation between parents when parenting their child together," said Professor Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, of Ohio State University in Columbus.
For example, she explained, if one parent tells the child to "sit down" the other parent might echo the first parent's request by saying, "please sit down now".
Young children with low levels of self-control are prone to temper tantrums, disobedience, fighting, or the inability to sit still and concentrate, but this behaviour is less likely to develop if parents present a united front and support each other, Schoppe-Sullivan and colleagues report in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
How the study was done
The researchers videotaped the interactions of 92 families - a mother, a father, and a four-year-old child - as they participated in two types of 10-minute play. During these observations the investigators rated co-parenting skills and the children's behaviours.
To assess any changes in the children's behaviours over time, the researchers also compared mothers' and teachers' reports on the children's behaviour traits at age four and again at age five.
Children who had difficulty controlling their reactions and behaviours at four years of age got worse over the subsequent year "only when their parents were low on supportive co-parenting," Schoppe-Sullivan and colleagues report.
These findings indicate that "support between parents is essential", said Schoppe-Sullivan. She and her colleagues call for further research to assess exactly what it is about co-parenting that benefits a child's behaviour over time.
Co-parenting may directly model appropriate behaviour for children or may help parents "use more effective individual parenting strategies, thus helping their children to learn or maintain appropriate behaviour," Schoppe-Sullivan commented. – (Reuters Health, March 2009)
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