A positive and supportive co-parenting between mothers and fathers can help protect children at risk for some types of behaviour problems, according to a new study.
The study led by Ohio State University has found that cooperative co-parenting helped children who have difficulty regulating their behaviour and attention levels - what researchers have dubbed effortful control.
The researchers tracked the kids' level of aggressive behaviour and other forms of "acting out" from 4 years old to 5 years age.
They found that children who had low levels of effortful control generally showed increases in negative behaviours over the course of the year - unless their parents had a supportive co-parenting relationship.
"It's a positive message for parents," said Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, lead author of the study and assistant professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University.
"If you support your spouse in front of your child, show that you are a united front, it can help prevent some behaviour problems in children who may be at risk.
"If you have a child who has trouble controlling his or her behaviour, that's not a problem that often goes away. That's one reason why it is so significant that positive co-parenting can help manage the problem," she added.
A good co-parenting promotes a sense of family security in children that makes it easier for them to focus on controlling their own behaviours and emotions.
In the study involving 92 families with a 4-year-old child, parents were asked to complete a questionnaire about their child's temperament, and mothers reported about their child's behaviour.
Each mother, father, and child was then videotaped while completing two 10-minute tasks together.
The tasks including building a house out of a toy-building set were designed to see how mothers and fathers worked with each other and their child to complete the task.
While levels of aggressive behaviours increased during that year in many children with low effortful control, the notable exception was children whose parents showed supportive co-parenting.
"Supportive co-parenting may have prevented growth in these negative behaviors over one year's time," Schoppe-Sullivan said.
The study appears in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.