Parents: A United Front or A Strong Foundation?

I often hear people say that parents need to present a united front when disciplining their children. I agree…in a way, sort of. True, it is detrimental for children to see their parents constantly argue about the rules or methods of discipline. It interferes with effective discipline when children see one parent consistently step in to correct the other parent during discipline. In fact, the child who sees that will learn to use one parent against the other. Worse, they will feel less secure and, as a result, have less energy to invest in growing and maturing. So yes, parents need to be on the same page when it comes to discipline.

On the other hand, parents are people, and no two people are exactly the same, not even parents. They have different personalities and different experiences that may lead to differences in what they consider an appropriate limit or an effective style of discipline.  Besides, the term “united front” makes me think of allies uniting on the front line to wage battle against a common enemy. But our child is not the enemy, they are family. Rather than a united front, I think parents need a strong foundation from which to parent effectively.

Developing a strong parental foundation takes some work that begins even before any discipline is needed. Here are three ways to begin building a strong parental foundation that will help you effectively discipline your children as a team.

First, before any disciplinary issues arise, sit down with your child’s other parent to discuss discipline (3 Simple Steps to Discipline Children). Here are just a few questions to consider:

  • What behaviors do you want to encourage? How will you encourage those behaviors?
  • What behaviors will you absolutely not tolerate? How will you consequence those behaviors?
  • How will you teach and model the behaviors you want your children to do more often? 
  • You may discover you and your child’s other parent have some differences of opinion. That’s OK. Now is the time to talk about those differences. That discussion will include talking about how your childhood experiences shape your ideas about discipline. What experiences did you have as an adult and as a child that influenced your ideas about discipline?

Overall, this discussion begins to develop a foundation for how you will discipline together. Develop an agreed upon approach to your discipline style as a couple. This may require some compromise along the way. (Learn more in Compromise: My Way or the Highway.)

Second, address issues that arise during discipline…but not in the moment. No matter how much you prepare ahead of time, you will experiment moments in which you disagree with your spouse about a boundary or a method used to discipline. In the immediate moment, do your best to support your spouse and their intent to raise a healthy mature person. Because you have taken time to agree on basic parenting goals and discipline style (the first step above), you can support your spouse and their intent in this moment.

Then, talk to your spouse in private about your concern. Begin the private discussion by acknowledging your spouse as a good parent who loves your children and wants the best for them. Ask them to help you understand their thoughts and feelings around the situation. As they do, you may find you have greater agreement than you initially thought. Finally, discuss your concerns. Then you can work together to develop a plan for future incidents, a plan you are both comfortable with.

Third, at all times (except in cases of abuse) support your child’s other parent. One way to do this involves promoting mutual respect within the family. Moments to do so arise throughout the day as well as during times of discipline. For instance, “Please turn the TV down while your father is resting” encourages your children to consider how their actions impact others.

Don’t be surprised though if your child says, “Please turn the TV down while I’m studying.” After all, we are seeking mutual respect and teaching our child to politely speak up for their needs.

These ideas are not exhaustive. They merely help you begin a process of building a strong foundation…a process that will continue throughout your time of raising children. And, most important, these ideas will help you and your spouse enjoy parenting your child together.

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