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The Struggles of CoParenting When Raising a Toddler


This article discusses the issues and coparenting conflicts that arise when coparenting children ages 18 months through preschool, the typical factors that are considered to resolve conflicts between coparents, as well as the factors that typically allow for deviation from generally accepted practice when negotiating conflicts.

Co-parenting conflicts arise in conjunction with the developmental stage of the child. Knowing the issues that may arise as your child hits each developmental stage and careful advance planning can help you to set a foundation for avoiding those conflicts.

Each child is unique.

Each family is unique.

Despite being unique, the developmental stage of the child and the life cycle stage of the family will influence parenting and the relationship between coparents.

What do courts consider at the toddler stage when deciding on what is in the best interest of the child?

Children who are 18 months old through their toddler years have unique temperaments and attachment styles. They vary with regard to these factors even within the same developmental stage and even within the same family.

Each child reacts in their own way to change and in their ability to adapt to change and in the way their sense of change impacts their feelings of safety and security. Understanding your child's temperament gives you insight into your child's needs.

Separation Anxiety

Children experience separation anxiety, especially at 18 months, and then it curbs again as they start to move toward preschool and become part of a new social circle.

As with the infant, the court will want to understand how the child copes with transitions.

  • Is there a past separation experience we can look to?
  • What is the child's particular temperament?
  • How has this child adjusted to change in the past?
  • How can we make sure that the primary caretaker attachment they already formed isn't damaged as well as make sure the child is slowly building attachment with their other parent?



Safety is a major concern during the toddler-preschool stage, where children are extremely active and need consistent supervision. Every parent and caretaker must have the means to watch the child themselves or through somebody else. 


What if my toddler child shows signs of regression or starts to act out?

Children will regress if they're feeling anxiety but they will bounce back. Try to be patient and help them to feel calm by reintroducing, to the full extent possible, predictability and consistency of family rituals and routines. 

Children may also regress or act out in response to their feeling that they're responsible for their parents separating. We must continue to reassure them that they were not the cause of the break up and that they didn't act in a way that created the break up. Explicitly state that to them that they are not the reason that their parents separated and that both parents still love them as much as ever.

Creating a new home and patterns and rituals with your toddler, particularly if you're doing it for the first time as a single parent, can be challenging. The challenge is even greater if you don't have a support system. You need not be a perfect parent. Lead with love for both the child and yourself.


Michael came to see me regarding an issue he and his exwife had fought about when married and are now fighting about in coparenting. 


"Despite my constant efforts to show our son a positive role model, his mother continues to insist on using a parenting style that I feel is too lenient. It is not that I think she is totally wrong, it's just that we need to work on consistency, because our child is used to her discipline techniques now. This makes me look like the bad guy."


To the full extent possible, you want to offer a consistent list of important values that both co-parents hold to. 

Discipline and teaching in line with those values may take a different form between coparents. A child between 18 months through their toddler years will do well if given similar consequences for misbehavior, as well as positive affirmation for good behavior, in each home.

Consider compromising and utilizing both parent's wishes regarding relevant issues. If one parent is particularly concerned with talking back and another is upset that the child refuses to prepare to go to preschool, validate each other's concerns, brainstorm ways to treat both issues and if you can't agree on how to address issues, compromise by giving the parent who is most concerned with a particular issue the chance to share why their method is most suitable and a sense of your meeting them at least partially with a consistent response.

Ultimately each parent has the right to engage in safe and not physically harmful discipline with the child on the issues they see fit to do so during their parenting time. However, with a child this age, who is in heavy learning mode about even the most basic expectations, a consistent response by coparents will help the child learn about the issue.

Looking at the child's developmental stage and noting the acute characteristics, we can anticipate the behaviors or issues that might lead to argument or disagreement in advance. That is one way of getting ahead of the game and being prepared to talk through and negotiate through those terms.


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