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|Quick reference medical handouts used
by Pediatric offices
When Parents Disagree on Discipline
Here's a common scenario seen very frequently by psychologists and
pediatricians. . Mom and dad bring in one or several of their children. They are
dissatisfied with the children's behavior, particularly at home. (Often the
children act wonderfully with other people!) At home, however, the children
fight, fuss, and don't follow directions. Their behavior may be worse with the
mother and, out of sheer frustration and desperation, she may resort to the
strategy, "Wait 'til your dad gets home." However, this creates even
more guilt and anguish in mom. She feels that a gentle and understanding
approach with children is best; dad blames mom for the children's problems and
believes they are not being punished enough. "I was spanked when I was a
child," dad often says, "and I turned out okay!" In such cases as
this, the marriage becomes consumed by the children's behavior and the parents
have little time for each other.
I'm not a believer in hitting kids as a way of teaching good behavior or
controlling poor behavior. Dad probably would have turned out okay even if other
approaches than spanking had been used with him. The lesson that kids learn from
being spanked is a poor one and the approach usually is just a temporary
solution to the problem.
How do parents solve the dilemma of very different approaches to discipline?
First, the parents must agree on what they realistically expect for their
children. And this is based on the children's age, their temperament, their
ability to follow directions, and the structure of the family. Discipline is far
easier with one child than with three, for example. Furthermore, a two year old
usually has a hard time sitting through thirty minutes of dinner without the
need to get up. Compromise may be critical to the parents agreeing on what they
want for their children: doing homework independently, cleaning up after
themselves, saying "Yes, sir" and "Yes, m'am", following
directions quickly, not talking back, etc. The parents should come to some
meeting of the minds on what values are highest priority for each and on which
behaviors they both agree are important to nurture in their children. The
parents should then support each other in this quest.
As it often turns out, the mother makes most of the decisions for and with the
children. She gets them up, dressed and fed in the morning, oversees homework,
gets them ready for bed, supervises play and play arrangements for after school
and weekends. Therefore, there are more opportunities for mom and child to have
conflicts. The challenge to the mother is to use approaches that will work:
incentives, restriction, time out, cooperative activities. These are all
described fully on the audiotape mentioned earlier, in some excellent books, and
at lectures that often are offered for free in many communities. In any case,
the primary caregiver should be able to control the behavior of the children
using traditional and some creative approaches to behavior management without
resorting to corporal punishment. The agreement between parents should be:
Most children require structure, routine, and
predictability. Often, just making small changes in the way you run your home
and interact with your children will yield dramatic changes in their behavior.
While you can take pride in the wonderful changes you see, beware that there are
challenges waiting around every corner with children. This is what makes
parenthood as satisfying and enjoyable as it is challenging; the wonderful
changes in your children make you feel so good!
- We will be consistent. That is, whatever we
decide on, we both will use the same approaches when the children are with
- We will never argue in the front of the
children about disagreements in discipline approaches.
- We will start with approaches that don't
involve physical, verbal, or emotional abuse. We agree that discipline
should not involve hurting our children. We will try these approaches
consistently for several weeks before considering other more punitive
- We will use systematic approaches that seem to
have worked for others in the past. Therefore, we must be willing to talk to
other people who have had similar problems, listen to and read materials
that can teach us better ways to handle our children, and attend lectures
that might help us and answer some of our questions.
written by child developmental specialist Warren
Umansky, Ph.D. who writes the Hot Parenting Topic for the
Behavior/Parenting-based website Webehave.Com
and posted on kidsgrowth.com 08-12-04
As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as
medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your childs pediatrician.
Please read our full disclaimer.