There comes a point after the baby bottles have long been packed away, that you realize the art of raising children is much more than just providing cuddles and love. Around the age of 2, most children begin settling into their own personalities – which means that they quickly become less than cute. They talk back, say, ‘NO’, and can be defiant regardless of the situation. Discipline is a tool that parents must be able to use to help children understand boundaries, become self controlled and learn how to become responsible human beings. But what happens when parents begin to disagree on how the children should be handled?
According to clinical psychologist Ruth Peters, parents must first realize that it is normal and ‘inevitable’ for parents to disagree about discipline. Many factors are involved including but not limited to, who spends the most time with the children, how the parents were raised as children, who witnessed the dastardly deed of the moment, and the behavior history of the child involved. The parents current stress level can also be a factor especially if the parental disagreement is about the degree of discipline used. Probably the most distinct difference however results from how each parent was raised. Parents tend to either believe in their parent’s way of discipline or disagree with it completely and those ideals profoundly affect how each parent sees discipline in their own home. Unfortunately, few adults really talk about this before they get married and have children.
The first line of defense in helping parents who disagree about child discipline agree, or at least meet in the middle, is to adhere to parenting rule number one! Never talk about these sorts of issues in front of your kids.
When discipline disagreements arise, and you find your spouse handling the situation differently than you expect, do your best to hold your tongue. If you undermine your spouse in the presence of your children by overriding or even making comments about the discipline (or lack thereof), you discredit your spouse in the eyes of his or her children. As children get older, they will learn to manipulate the situation and pit parent against parent in order to get the results they want. It also confuses children. If one parent says, ‘Go to your room’, and the other says, ‘All you have to do is tell your sister you are sorry’, the child really doesn’t what to do.
Obviously refraining from disagreeing in front of the children is often impossible. And the truth is that children who see their parents argue, disagree, and then talk about the issue calmly to reach a solution, learn some pretty handy life skills. If you need to have the discussion right then and there, make sure that the two of you are ‘fighting fairly’ so to speak and are controlling the emotional response to the disagreement. Psychologist Ruth Peters also says to even resorting to a coin flipping if necessary so that the children will see the two of you working together rather than against one another.
The next rule is for parents to sit down and draft a household rulebook TOGETHER. Both of you will have certain behavior ideals that you won’t be willing to make exceptions for. For instance, things that involve education, respect, health, safety, and honesty are often easy to agree upon. When you can pinpoint the behaviors that you and your spouse agree should not be taken lightly and come up with a comprehensive plan of action that involves discipline ahead of time you won’t be caught disagreeing in the heat of the moment. Obviously, not every childhood behavior infraction can be foreseen but as they arise, notes and expectations can be added to the family rulebook.
Not only does creating a rulebook enable the children to know what to expect, but it also takes away the need for impulsive discipline. And both parents will be able to discuss in detail (and alone) what they feel is an appropriate discipline for the action.
Additionally, as a parent, it is important to understand that mom and dad will do things differently. If dad is home with the kids and doesn’t allow them to eat on the couch, whereas mom normally does, just make sure you are clear with the children. Often, in households where one parent spends more time with the kids than another, the rule enforcement will be dramatically different and can often be derived from self-guilt. For instance, the parent that is always gone may want to be easier on the kids when he or she is at home. Similarly, the parent who care takes for the children the most, may be quicker to react in behavioral situations because he or she is around it all the time.
The real key is trying to maintain an open-ended discussion with one another, and remaining a level playing field for your children so they know what to expect. Perhaps the most important aspect is ensuring that the disciplinary action is not overlooked simply because the parents disagree about what to do. Too often, parents end up in a heated debate about what to do and the child escapes with no form of discipline whatsoever.
The focus to discipline MUST remain n the children. When parents start fussing and disagreeing about what to do, how to do it, which is right, who’s way is most effective, what is too easy or too harsh the children are missing out on critical life lessons. And in every two-parent households, it takes TWO parents to enforce the rules and make sure that the disciplinary action is followed through with.
One point to consider when it comes to discipline is that both parents have some valuable insight to offer to the situation based on their very different life experiences. It is important to talk about how you feel, why you feel a certain way and why you believe that your way of discipline is important. When parents can understand the roots of discipline, they can actually put their knowledge and feelings to create a disciplinary blueprint that combines the best of two worlds.