You and your partner may have thought it would never happen – that your children would always remain precious angels, so perfect that you would never have to think about how to discipline them. Unfortunately, as most moms and dads know, that fantasy turns into a harsh reality very early on. Children will be children and how you intend to discipline them will soon become a very real fact of your life.
To make matters worse, as your kids grow older you may even find that you and your partner are not always on the same page when it comes to discipline. Discipline differences can cause trouble in a marriage – and can also greatly confuse your kids. It is important that you and your partner work together to come up with discipline methods that you both can agree on.
Many moms and dads end up adopting disciplinary techniques similar to those that that they grew up with. If your parents were overly strict, you may find yourself taking that type of approach with your own kids. If your partner’s parents were somewhat permissive, you may see that your partner has a more laid back way of doing things. Thus, you may be deemed the “mean” parent while your partner will be seen as the pushover. If you want to avoid this problem, there are some issues that you and your partner should talk about ahead of time:
• Don’t be trapped by your past. That includes both your own childhood and the style of discipline you may have used in an earlier marriage. Look for ways to explore, with your spouse, your unquestioned assumptions about disciplining kids. One good way to do that is to take a parenting class together. That does two things: It helps you realize how differently other people respond to the same situations you face as parents, and it gives you and your spouse a common base of information from which to develop your shared approaches to discipline.
• Agree on a signal to alert both of you that the conversation is, or is about to, get too heated and needs to be halted.
• The premise of a time-out is simple enough. When your youngster misbehaves, she must sit alone in a designated area for a specified amount of time. But, perhaps your partner feels that this technique has no merit. Thus, if you spend all week putting your youngster in time-out whenever she misbehaves, and then on the weekends your partner doesn’t do the same, your youngster may feel that she can get away with more when you are not around.
• Consider taking a few parenting classes together. That way you'll have a common parenting experience to draw on. Hearing how other people parent (and why) can give a fresh perspective on what you want for your own family. Even though we may have learned how to parent from our parents, as adults we benefit from learn new skills.
• Negotiate a Plan in Calm Waters. Sit down with your partner and try to agree on ways to discipline at a time when nothing is wrong. When you discuss things calmly, you're more likely to come up with a plan you can both stick to. This will allow you to talk about what's best for your youngster, and not "who's right."
• Spanking is a very controversial disciplinary tactic. If you were routinely spanked as a youngster, you may have already vowed that you would never do that to your own kids. Because it is such a hot topic, it is very important that you discuss the subject of spanking with your partner. Your partner may feel that a swift swat on the bottom is not harmful to a youngster, while you may feel that any type of hitting is completely unacceptable. If you cannot come to terms on this subject, your children are going to pick up on it.
• Create your own family "rulebook." Write clear, reasonable, attainable rules (for both parents and kids) about what behavior is acceptable and what isn't. Your family, like a baseball team, will be more successful when you have clear guidelines.
• Present a Unified Front. Children understand when their parents feel differently about disciplining, no matter what their age. Kids will often get away with misbehaving simply by creating an argument between you and your partner — and this not only lets them off the hook, it creates a problem between the moms and dads. Make sure that your youngster sees both parents following the same guidelines, no matter what the scenario. Once your children start receiving the same treatment from both parents, they'll stop using your disagreements as a way to avoid punishment.
• Make a commitment both to honor and act on the signal. You might walk away and have an agreed-upon cooling off period. Or set a time to revisit your differences in opinion. Or write down what you're feeling and later share it with your spouse, who might better understand where you're coming from.
• Recognize What Your Arguments Do to Your Kids. No youngster likes to see his or her parents fight. When you argue about what to do with your children, you create a troubling environment for them, which could have serious long-tem effects. Fighting with your partner shifts the focus away from your youngster — and how they can learn to stop misbehaving — and on to a "parent versus parent" situation.
• Remember your successes. During your marriage, you and your wife have undoubtedly successfully negotiated many situations-with each of you both giving and taking a little until you reached some middle ground. You also be successful at ending arguments in front of the kids if you really want to. It won't be easy, but it will be rewarding. And your kids will be the ultimate winners.
• Make a plan and be consistent. Consistency is the most important thing to keep in mind when disciplining your kids. Try to avoid making empty threats, because kids can see right through them. Threaten a few times without following through and your children will soon learn not to take you seriously. Work with your partner to develop a plan that will keep you both in sync. Develop a punishment system for your children, as well as a rewards system for good behavior.
• Some moms and dads feel that the punishment should fit the crime. For example, if your children are fighting over which television show to watch, the punishment might be no television at all for a day. Or if your youngster grabs a toy from another youngster, he or she may not be allowed to play with that toy at all. Talk to your partner to see if you are both on the same page when it comes to consequences for your youngster.
• Be prepared for behavioral problems. Remember that many changes in kid’s behaviors are linked to their stage of normal development. It should come as no surprise that your toddler becomes defiant or your preschooler has an occasional temper tantrum. Talk ahead of time about how each of you would handle these predictable situations. That way you’ll have fewer conflicts when they occur.
• If, after discussing the various types of discipline methods, you find that you and your partner still cannot agree on how to discipline your kids, you should seek professional family counseling at once. This is not an area where you can just hope things will work out by themselves. Disciplining your kids is one of the most important parts of parenthood. Do a good job at it, and you children will grow into happy, well-adjusted adults.
Disciplining your kids can take a toll on your marriage if you and your partner don’t agree on how to do it.
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