Learning how to become an effective parent is one of the most difficult jobs we have. It’s difficult just by itself, but it becomes even more so when the parents of a child disagree on disciplinary methods. Throw in the complications of blended families, stepparents, divorce, foster families, or children from different homes… and you’ve got a recipe for so many parental arguments.
How do we get on the same page as our team members about how to effectively discipline our children? Whether we’re co-parenting with a spouse, a parent of a different capacity, or an entirely different family, we have to figure out to come to a consensus about which behaviors should be addressed, how to go about addressing them, and what our kids’ consequences should look like. If we don’t, our kids will end up pulled in different directions, unsure of which way is “right” and which way is “wrong.” We’ll also set ourselves up for being triangulated against one another by our children, who really would be smart to use our arguing for their own gain.
Even the really sweet kids do it!
Here are some tips for figuring out how to get on the same page:
1. Talk about your hard lines.
There are things, as parents, that we absolutely refuse to allow to happen to our children. There are the obvious culprits, such as physical abuse and sexual abuse, but when it comes to what qualifies as mental or emotional abuse, we all seem to have different opinions. It’s important to talk about what these things are (to you) so that you can establish them as hard lines. Your co-parent might be surprised by what you’re not okay with, and you might be surprised with what they’re not okay with.
When I first had this conversation with my husband, I made it very clear that I was not okay with spanking. Throughout my years as a behavior interventionist, I’ve become even more adamant about that opinion.
I explained to him that my parents spanked me, and that I didn’t resent them for it, but that I knew there were ways to discipline without corporal punishment. I also knew that his parents had spanked him so I wanted to make it super, super clear that he would not be able to continue that parenting trend.
Fortunately, he was okay with my philosophy, and we’ve figured out some really effective ways to work with our kids without spanking.
For others, that “hard line” might be yelling because they have traumatic past where yelling triggers them. Maybe one of you is absolutely not okay with taking away family outings as a form of punishment. Maybe you’re not okay with closing a child’s door while they’re in time out.
Some others I had to specify over the years were:
– Not screaming in my child’s face with a finger pointed at them
– Not forcing them o stay in bed when they’re terrified (not just scared, but screaming and terrified)
– Not standing in the doorway of their rooms so they can’t get out when they’re scared
– Not putting hands on them (in any way) when you’re upset
Talk through this as much as you can before the situation arises, but then revisit it when you discover something new that just doesn’t sit right with you.
2. Understand that the other person doesn’t have to parent the way you do, in order to be a good parent.
My sister does not parent like me, but she’s a good mom. My parents didn’t parent the way I do, but they were good parents. My husband doesn’t parent exactly like I do, but he’s a good dad.
YOU are not the standard for good parenting because there’s more than one right way.
3. Remember that your children will encounter a million different types of authority figures throughout their lives, and they need to be able to handle each one.
We can’t prepare our kids for every difficult person they’re going to encounter in life, but we can do them a favor by not putting them in a bubble of protection. DON’T let them be around adults who are unsafe, but allow them to be around adults who treat them differently than you do because it’s helpful to them. As long as your child isn’t being abused, and your hard lines aren’t being crossed, it’s okay for someone to interact differently with your child than you do.
It will help your child figure out how to adjust their sails when dealing with someone who isn’t like mom/dad, or, better yet, when dealing with someone they don’t particularly like.
I could choose my child’s classroom teacher every year and only let them be with teachers who are sweet and gentle, but how will that help them when they grow up to have a boss that isn’t gentle? I won’t let them be in a classroom with a teacher who isn’t actually teaching them anything (that would be so rare) or a teacher who demeans them, but I’d let them be with a grumpy/callous/straightforward teacher.
The same can be said for allowing your children to be parented by different types of people in order to better prepare them for a variety of personalities in adulthood. We aren’t meant to cause our children trauma in order to “prepare” them, but we should allow them to be around varied personalities so long as it’s safe.
4. Talk through sample scenarios ahead of time.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Talk about situations you know are likely to come up, and talk about how you think they should be handled. You could even try role-playing or taking turns pretending to be the child.
Not only does this cut the tension in the conversation, but it also allows you to practice thinking on your feet.
5. Be okay with different homes having different rules (as long as they don’t violate safety).
Pretty much every tip on this list comes with the contingency, “AS LONG AS IT DOESN’T VIOLATE SAFETY.” The important part of that is making sure you’ve decided what YOU feel is safe versus unsafe.
If you share your child with a different home, whether it be because of foster care, divorce, babysitting, or whatever else, try to be okay with your child living by different rules when they’re in that other place. Again, it teaches them to adjust, but it also teaches them that their mom/dad isn’t the ruler of the universe. For a lot of kids, this is really hard for them to understand. You’ll hear them say things like, “But that’s not what my mom does.”
As often as possible, support the rules of the other home by telling your child, “If that’s the rule at Ann’s house, then you need to follow it.” That doesn’t mean your rules change to match Ann’s. It just means you teach your child to follow whichever rules apply to the place they’re in. Just like how we have to follow different speed limits when we travel to different areas.
We can’t tell the police officer, “But that’s not the speed limit on MY street.”
6. Whoever the first adult is to address the misbehavior, they should be the one to finish it, even if they have to take a break in the middle.
This one is far more important than a lot of parents understand. Let me paint the scenario for you.
A dad asks their kid to take the trash out. The kid pretends not to hear them and doesn’t take the trash out. The dad now has an instance of disobedience to address.
No matter how long the situation drags out, the dad should be the one to resolve the issue in the end. The mom (or whoever) might need to step in to offer the dad a break if the disobedience goes on too long or if the dad gets overwhelmed, but before everything is said and done, the child should have to go back to the very beginning, take the trash out, and resolve things emotionally with the dad.
The other parent SHOULD NOT swoop in and save the child from whatever was asked of them (again, as long as it doesn’t violate safety). This undermines the authority of the first parent and creates an argument between the two adults. It doesn’t teach the child to be responsible, to obey, or to be okay with instructions from multiple people. It truly creates a much bigger issue.
7. Offer to let the other “tap out” when they seem to be getting overly emotional, but don’t force them.
We’ve all been in one of those situations where we’ve lost our cool with our kids and really need to take a step back. When you hear your co-parent getting to this point, decide on a phrase that will allow you to offer them a break.
Try something like, “Hey, the neighbor needs to talk to you. Do you have time?” This lets the other parent know they seem to be losing emotional control and that you’re willing to give them a break if they need it.
The other parent is free to say they’ll go talk to the neighbor (aka take a minute to cool off), or they can say, “Not right now. Can you ask them to check back with me later?”
You could even say something simple when it sounds like your partner is getting upset, such as, “You good?” Any of these phrases gives them the chance to tap out or to stay in the ring. Either way, give them the option. And if they refuse your help, be okay with that. Trust them to be an effective parent who knows their limits.
Again, so long as it doesn’t violate the child’s safety.
8. Express the things that aren’t hard lines but bother you, and then leave them alone.
There are soooooo many situations where we feel frustrated for our kids because of the way someone else is treating them. It’s okay to express those things to your partner/co-parent/team member, as long as you do it during a neutral moment when no one is upset.
Once you’ve said your peace, reassure them that they don’t HAVE to parent like you, that you were only expressing a feeling, and that you’ll support them no matter what they choose.
These aren’t the hard line situations. These are the little things that irk us, which build up over time and cause us to argue with our spouses. Speak your peace when the time is right, but then let it go.
Your kids are more resilient than you think.