Divorced parents benefit from modeling their communication pattern after business etiquette—it should be Civil, Polite, and Respectful (CPR). The idea is for each parent to take responsibility for their individual communication styles and focus on implementing CPR communication, regardless of what the other parent is doing (or not doing). When both parents commit to setting the standard for the best communication possible, then generally one parent will be communicating well even if the other slips occasionally.
Without a focus on CPR communication, criticism and blame permeate co-parenting communication. This causes the focus of the parents to be on each other, rather than the children (even if the topic of the discussion is about something related to the children). Criticism, blame, and retaliation derail the co-parenting agenda.
When CPR is in place, parents can communicate in many different ways. The Communication Ladder below outlines 5 communication skills that start from a basic level and progress in complexity as each new skill builds on the previous skill(s).
1. Exchanging Information: Communicating basic information (medical, school-related, extracurricular, etc.) is often a necessity and perhaps the easiest of the 5 skills.
2. Logistical Planning: Without this type of planning, schedules and especially modifications or occasional occurrences (such as doctor’s appointments) are going to go amiss.
3. Setting Policies & Procedures / Making Decisions: A higher level of communication, this skill is used in the following types of circumstances (and many others):
- Choosing a healthcare provider;
- Setting bedtimes;
- Setting rules around electronic devices;
- Disciplinary decisions; or
- Schoolwork discussions.
Whether major or minor, children benefit from many decisions that parents can make together. It is helpful to think of your residences as being similar to classrooms (where two teachers may have different styles and different curricula) but share the same classroom policies. This way the child knows what the consistent expectations are. Your child also knows that you are working together as a team in these areas (even if the child does not like the policy or decision).
4. Exchanging Input: This skill is necessary, particularly when one of you have a concern about your child. For example, parents must be able to share input if a child is not sleeping well, has behavioral issues, etc.
5. Discussing What Your Child Needs to Grow and Thrive: We live in a complex and sometimes stressful and scary world. Parents need to be able to think about how to foster growth and ensure their child is thriving. Without the previous basic skills, it is virtually impossible to have a level 5 conversation.
Overall, these skills are built and honed by providing information, formulating action plans, making decisions and then implementing them, and keeping these discussions specifically about the children, rather than their gripes about each other.
By keeping CPR (civil, polite, and respectful) in mind as a communication strategy, parents can put the needs of their children first and foremost.
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My Divorce Recovery
Jeffrey Zimmerman, Ph.D., ABPP
Lauren Behrman, Ph.D.