Co-Parenting Through Children’s Behavioral Challenges, Part II: supportive Strategies

April 27th


Behavioral disorder in kids and adults.

Many co-parents across the world juggle the demands of co-parenting with the demands of caring for a child with special needs. In our newsletter last week, we discussed the ways in which co-parenting and children’s behavior can influence each other and can create stress for the entire family. This week, we’re back with some concrete strategies that will help you to find confidence and satisfaction in both your roles as a parenting partner and as a caregiver for your child. And if you’re a friend or family member, our tips will equip you to support your loved ones on their journey.

The Gist

Co-parenting a child with special needs can be challenging at times. Being organized and structured with your day-to-day life and routines will help you to be a more effective parenting partner and caregiver for your child.

Establish open, respectful communication between you and your parenting partner in regard to your child’s behavior and needs. Try to understand each other’s viewpoints, and do your best to set aside other differences to delegate responsibilities and support each other.

Rely on professional support when appropriate. You and your co-parent don’t need to do it all alone. Find people whom you can trust to be part of the village that raises your child.

Don’t lose sight of your own needs in the effort to meet those of your child. You won’t be able to give your best self to co-parenting if you are depleted or burned out. Use your support system and schedule in time for yourself.


Co-parenting a child with specialized needs can be an all-consuming task, but, just like anything else, can go more smoothly when you have a plan. There’s no “one size fits all” strategy, as each child and family is unique. However, the following tips can serve as a general blueprint to guide you in your everyday life.

  • Open the lines of communication with your parenting partner.

    Confronting the challenges your child is experiencing can bring up lots of emotions. Couple that with whatever other feelings lingering between you and your ex and either (or both) of you might find it tempting to avoid the topic of your child’s special needs altogether. However, pushing those thoughts aside won’t help your relationship with your co-parent and it definitely won’t help your child. Engage in an honest, respectful dialogue with your parenting partner about your child’s growth and development, including what you have observed, any progress or concerns, strategies that you’ve tried, etc. Then, keep in frequent contact so that you both are kept up-to-date on treatment plans, goals, recommendations, etc. Make sure to share this information with long distance parenting partners, too.

  • Access professional support as needed, and allow those professionals to bear some of the workload for you. Parents oftentimes feel vulnerable asking for help, as it may feel like an admission that they have done something wrong or are failing their children in some way. Some parents also worry about the stigma associated with treatment, or worry about giving their children “labels” or making their differences seem bigger than they should. However, these fears may impede adults and children alike from receiving the support they need. Ask people whom you trust (your pediatrician, school staff, friends, family, etc.) for referrals, and don’t hesitate to shop around until you find someone you feel comfortable with. Once you have found the right personnel, take a step back and allow them to do their job. This should take some of the weight off of you, and the opinion of a trained, neutral party may also diffuse any disagreements between you and your parenting partner.
  • Buy in to the reality that your child may need more structure and adjust your schedules and routines accordingly. Predictable rules and routines benefit all children, but they are often especially important for children with specialized learning or behavioral health needs. Your child will benefit greatly if you and your parenting partner both buy in to this and do your best to maintain consistency across households. Depending upon your child’s plan of care, you may also be juggling multiple appointments with different providers and so maintaining an organized schedule will help you and your parenting partner keep up with everything as well. Adhere to your custody schedule as best you can, and if you vary from the schedule, plan how you will navigate this with your child. Be sure to include any services that may be impacted by the change.
  • Build your own support network and take care of yourself. You can’t give from an empty cup. Schedule self-care opportunities for yourself, not just for essential medical appointments but also for your emotional and social wellbeing. For example, make a date to go out with friends without kids, or skip housework when your child has gone to bed and instead binge your favorite tv show. Seek out your natural supports- such as your friends and family members- and consider tapping into available community resources such as support groups and therapy.
  • Maintain a sense of normalcy for yourself and your family. Your child is more than his/her behavioral challenges, and so are the rest of you! Don’t let yourself be consumed by your child’s needs. Focus on his/her strengths and interests, and foster development in those areas. Be sure to add fun and levity into your repertoire of activities! You may have to adapt some of these activities, but they can still be doable. For example, many theater companies offer alternate performances of plays for sensory-sensitive audiences, which would allow families with children on the autism spectrum to enjoy an outing together.


The health and prosperity of future generations depend on the seeds we plant today. As a society, we owe it to ourselves to do everything we can to nurture the growth and development of all children, including those with specialized needs, and the parents who care for them. If you’re part of the village for families of children with special needs, here are some suggestions for ways to offer your support.

  • Address the person first. Remember that regardless of any diagnosis, differences, or perceived disability, kids with special needs are people first, and so are their parents. Treat them as such! This includes everything from how you interact with them to how you refer to them (I.e.: children with special needs instead of special needs children).
  • Educate yourself. Learn about behavioral issues and strategies and proper terminology.
  • Volunteer, donate, and support the cause. Many organizations and groups serve children with behavioral issues/special needs and their families. Giving your personal resources (time, money, etc.) could help bolster their work. You can also join groups to promote awareness and advocate for policies in support of these issues.
  • Lend an ear and a hand. Sometimes the best way to show you care is to listen. Make efforts to check in on parents; ask how they (not just their children) are doing and simply hear them out, without trying to interject or offer solutions. You can also ask what you can do to help, but understand that sometimes people won’t be willing or able to give an answer to that question. Instead, think about what you could provide and then offer it to them. For example, you could say, “I’d like to bring over dinner this week and spend some time with the kids; would this be ok? What works best for you?” in place of, “Do you want me to cook dinner for you?” Think outside of the box when you’re brainstorming options, as there are many ways that you can be of assistance other than caring for their child.



Every parent hopes for health and happiness for their child. When you’re co-parenting a child with special needs, your journey may look a little different than you expected, but it can still be full of love and laughter. Armed with our tips, we hope you and your parenting partner can find confidence in your relationship with each other and with your child.


Still Struggling? Koh-Parenting Can Help!

Check out our learning guides that can help you on your co-parenting journey.

Koh-Parenting Learning Guides

By Koh-Parenting Services LLC

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