There are some families in which the parents’ beliefs about changing children’s behavior are so different that their attempts at discipline become more of a problem than a solution. A youngster whose dad is strict, but whose mom is a consistent pushover, for example, receives confusing information about what’s expected.
Such fundamental disagreements can lead to difficulties that go far beyond the consequences of not picking up toys after playing with them. Moms and dads who have significantly different parenting styles are more likely to have kids with behavior problems than families who have similar styles.
Here are some steps you can take to work towards resolving parenting disagreements:
1. Be prepared for behavioral problems. Remember that many changes in your kid’s behaviors are linked to their stage of normal development. It should come as no surprise that your 3-year-old becomes defiant or your first-grader 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.
2. Discuss your parenting objectives. What is important to both of you? Sit down with your spouse and decide what values are most important. Also, what areas are not as important?
3. 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 partner, your unquestioned assumptions about disciplining kids. One good way to do that is to take a parenting class together. That does two things: (a) it helps you realize how differently other people respond to the same situations you face as moms and dads, and (b) it gives you and your partner a common base of information from which to develop your shared approaches to discipline.
4. Find out what both of your parenting strengths and weaknesses are. Many times both moms and dads want the same things for their children. Compliment your spouse on his/her strengths. Don't just point out your spouse's flaws.
5. If at all possible, don't disagree in front of your kids. You can't always anticipate where and when you will disagree, but when you can, discuss the issue in private first and return to present a unified front. Disagreeing in front of kids, while not necessarily damaging, can be confusing for them. At the same time, a healthy difference of opinion and subsequent negotiation, compromise, and follow-through on a decision is not necessarily a bad process for kids to see.
6. If the discussion gets heated, agree to disagree. Fighting about how to parent is only going to make the situation worse. Walk away, take a break and discuss it when you are not angry.
7. Parenting and relationships are a growing process. The more you communicate the better parent/spouse you will be. Learn from each other and listen to each other. Build on your parenting strengths and tackle your parenting weaknesses a little at a time. It won't happen overnight, but if you continue to discuss things with your spouse calmly and positively, you will become a better parenting team.
8. You and your spouse will never agree on everything, but perhaps you can agree on a decision-making process. Some situations call for immediate parental action, but if you aren't satisfied with how a situation was handled, you can discuss later and decide how you will handle these kinds of situations in the future. In other situations, you may be able to step away and briefly discuss alternatives. Explaining your reasoning to both your youngster and your spouse will go a long way to building trust with both your kids and your spouse.
9. Plan ahead. Discuss problem situations you are having with your kids. For example, if you are having a problem with your youngster having tantrums, discuss how you think this should be handled. If you have a plan in action, it will be easier for both of you to follow each other's wishes.
10. Remember that, compared with losing a loving unified home, the damage that may be caused to your kids by your partner's different idea of what is best for them is likely trivial – even assuming you're right and your partner is wrong. Placing things in perspective this way often leads you to discover that you've been fighting over nothing and resolves things right there.
11. Talk about where your kids are developmentally and what they are capable of understanding. Sometimes the reasons for parenting disputes are because one spouse thinks that a youngster is capable of understanding something and the other disagrees. Knowing what your youngster's cognitive level is will help you to make better decisions. Don’t compare your youngster to other kids. You can use examples based on what they are capable of doing and not doing. For example, if you ask them to get something out of their toy box, do they understand and go get it? If not, expecting your youngster to be able to understand certain things may be unreasonable.
12. The majority of parenting disagreements are over discipline methods and when it is appropriate to discipline. One parent may think that spanking is the best method, and the other may prefer time-outs or something else. One of the most effective ways to resolve this issue is to talk about it. Find out the reasons why your spouse feels the way he/she does. There are pros and cons to every form of parenting. Talk about why your spouse thinks his/her discipline style is the better method. Sometimes talking about it will help you to see each other's point of view.
13. There is so much advice from websites, blogs, online discussion groups, family and friends, and from books and magazines. Find a few trusted writers that are close to your parenting philosophy, and use them as guides to consult at times of conflict. Consider a trusted organization like the American Academy of Pediatrics. Couples may want to agree on a few advisors from whom they will seek guidance.
14. Time is precious for new moms and dads, and we often don't have the luxury of long conversations, but if you can find some uninterrupted time, it is great for each of you to share how you were parented and what you think was useful and what wasn't. If you have never had these kinds of conversations, it will at least put the disagreements into perspective. If you can find the time, it would also be great to talk about your hopes and dreams for your youngster and what it will take to support them to reach those dreams.
15. Work on role modeling communication. If your kids see that you communicate and problem solve together, they will grow up to do the same. Kids often repeat patterns of their own moms and dads. Look at your relationship and evaluate how you communicate. Is this the way you would like your kids to communicate with their future spouse?
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