United You Stand: Co-Parenting

Did you play this game as a kid?  You run to one of your parents and ask, “Can I have a candy bar?”  They say no, because you’ll spoil your dinner.  So, what do you do, you ask another parent!  “Can I have a lollipop?”  Sure, they say!  And when the parent who turned you down finds you eating a candy bar a few minutes later, your defense is bulletproof: With a finger pointed and a smirk on your face you proclaim, “But they said I could!”

Kids are smart about playing their parents off of each other to get what they want.  And while your candy bar strategy as a kid might not have been a big deal, when parents of kids with ADHD are not on the same page the consequences can be significant. This is especially true when it comes to the “negotiating” that kids with ADHD are prone to do in order to get their way. While their negotiating tactics can be clever and downright impressive at times (“My kid could be a lawyer!”), they ultimately create stress for the whole family and can become increasingly problematic as children grow into adolescents. Limiting your child’s negotiating behavior can reduce stress and improve your relationship with your child. To minimize negotiations, you and your co-parent need to be as consistent as possible with the things that your child pushes limits on throughout the day (treats, screen time, chores, bedtime, etc.).

Now, you may be thinking: easier said than done!  It’s sometimes difficult to get on the same page about what you’re going to be having for dinner, let alone all of these smaller things throughout the day. But actually, a few basic “rules of road” for the two of you can help you get on the same page and become a consistent parenting team.

Rule 1: Start small. Make a list of the things your child negotiates about regularly. Then pick on one thing on the list to focus on first. Set yourself up for success by starting with the easiest item on the list.

Rule 2. Give your child a heads-up. At a time when you, your co-parent, and your child are calm, have a group talk about the problem and how things are going to change. Keep it simple, positive, and brief. For example, “I know you’ve been wanting to go to bed later, and we’ve been arguing about that almost every night. We’ve both talked about it, and we’ve decided that since you’re getting a bit older, on Saturday nights you’ll be able to go to bed 10 minutes later than your usual bedtime. But every other night of the week, your bedtime doesn’t change. If you ask us to go to bed later we’re both going to tell you no. We might even walk away if you keep asking about it – not because we’re upset, but because we don’t want to argue.”

Rule 3. Support each other. When you first try out your new plan you may have a hard time not giving in to your child. After all, sometimes it does seem easier to just give in right away. So, look to your co-parent for reassurance and support to help build up your confidence as you learn to stick to your plan.

Rule 4. Praise your child. If your child accepts your answer and doesn’t negotiate, whine, or meltdown, then let them know that you’ve noticed their good behavior. “You did a great job going with the flow tonight when I told you that you couldn’t stay up late. I know that’s not always easy, but I’m really impressed with how well you handled it!” Kids get so much attention from their parents when they whine or negotiate, so make sure they get positive attention when they accept no for an answer!

Rule 5: Expand your plan. Once you’ve managed to be consistent with the first item on your list, expand your plan to include a second behavior. Follow the same rules above, and gradually address more items until you’ve covered most of your child’s “negotiation triggers” throughout the day.

Rule 6: Ask for help if you need it. Parenting is hard, and even harder when your child has ADHD. Don’t be afraid to turn to a professional to get some coaching on how to be consistent and co-parent successfully. Even a little coaching can go a long way, and everyone in your family will benefit.

Presenting a united front will make parenting easier and ultimately more enjoyable. It’s nice to know that someone else understands your frustrations, shares your concerns, and has your back. So, try out these basic rules. They’ll go a long way toward creating a less stressful household that will benefit everyone in your family.

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