Monday, December 7, 2009

When Parents Disagree: by Toni Schutta

You’re right in the middle of disciplining your child. Emotions are running hot. You give your child a consequence for the misbehavior and your spouse steps in and disagrees with how you’re handling the situation. You feel criticized, unsupported and upset. The whole thing goes downhill from there.

It would be impossible for two parents to agree 100 of the time on how to handle misbehavior, so let’s just agree that you’re going to disagree sometimes. You may have different parenting styles, different hot buttons and different expectations than your spouse. That’s understandable. You were raised by different parents and have absorbed certain values and discipline methods that helped shape who you are.

Yet, every day you’re called upon to make decisions regarding your children. So how can the two of you show a united front when it’s necessary, give each other the support that you need and prevent your child from playing you against one another?

This will take a little work, but it’ll be worth the effort. Your children will be your children for many years to come, so taking the time to establish some guidelines now will result in better parenting, less frustration and clearer expectations for your child.

Here are eight tips to guide you.

Tip #1: Reach an agreement to support each other publicly (or at least remain neutral).

You’ve heard about the importance of presenting a united front so your child can’t divide and conquer and it’s true. It’s confusing to your child when you argue about consequences in front of them. Children with a manipulative nature will use the situation to their advantage. Usually what happens is that you get embroiled in your own debate and the discipline action gets forgotten. It also undermines your spouse’s parental authority in front of your child, which is something you
don’t want to do.

Tip #2: Develop a signal.

Let’s say that you strongly disagree with the other parent’s choice of discipline. Agree ahead of time on a signal that you can give that means, “Take a break. Let’s talk about this.” Perhaps making a T sign with your hands to signal a time out would be a good choice.

Tip #3: Talk privately about the child’s offense and how it should be handled.

There are few discipline actions that can’t wait for a few minutes. Taking the time to leave the room and talk privately with your spouse about how to handle the situation is a respectful way of communicating to your spouse that there may be other options to consider. Regardless, you are setting a much needed boundary that this is an adult matter and that the two of you will handle it accordingly.

Tip #4: Check in with the other parent to see if they’ve already made a decision.

Many children will use the one liner, “Dad said that I could” to get what they want. When hearing this line from your child, a wise thing to do is to actually ask the other parent if s/he has already given approval to your child’s request. Again, this demonstrates to your child that as parents you are united and will support each other. Usually your child starts back peddling if s/he is trying to manipulate you.

Tip #5: Develop 3 4 family rules that you can agree to follow up with consistently using the same discipline method.

One of the best methods for two parents to be consistent is to develop a few family rules for behaviors that are most important in your family. For instance, all families should have a rule that “No one’s body will be hurt by hitting, kicking, biting, etc.” A consistent discipline action should be applied by both parents when physical aggression occurs. For complete details on creating family rules and consequences refer to this article:

Parents will never agree on how to handle all offenses, but if parents respond consistently to the top three behaviors, it will make a significant impact.

Tip #6: Agree that smaller offenses can be handled at the discretion of the parent in charge.

Once you have your family rules in place, try not to sweat the small stuff. It can be beneficial for children to learn different methods of problem solving and communication, so if your spouse parents a little differently, it may actually benefit your child. For instance, some parents are better at using humor to move through tough situations and if you’re open to it, you can learn what works more
effectively with each child.

Tip #7: Never say, “Wait ‘til your father (or mother) gets home!”

When a statement like this is made it undermines the authority of the parent who says it and makes the other parent the “bad cop.”

It’s important that you both share equally in disciplining your children.

Tip #8: Use positive discipline methods that work.

Many parents use time outs, yell or take away privileges as their top three discipline options. If those methods aren’t working for you it can be frustrating and lead to more arguments if you’re not feeling successful. If you feel like you’ve tried everything and nothing seems to work, you can learn 10 positive discipline methods that work by checking our this resource:

About the Author: By Toni Schutta, Parent Coach, M.A., L.P. Visit to receive a free copy of “The 7 Worst Mistakes that Parents Make (And How to Avoid Them!). Tune in to “Real Parents. Real Solutions” radio show here:

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