Resolving marriage conflicts: Child discipline

Many couples argue over child discipline. Learn how to avoid common pitfalls in negotiating positive, effective strategies with your spouse.
While the two major sources of marital conflict are sex and money, child discipline isn’t far behind. It becomes more of a problem in second and third or later marriages, as step-children and spouses multiply and child rearing standards become confused.

Fortunately, child discipline needn’t become a source of serious disagreement. Couples can try a number of strategies to develop a system of discipline that is consistent, effective, and productive. Here’s how.

1. The couple should set clear house rules and post them for everyone to see. If parents can’t agree on what needs to be done, how will kids know? If one or both parents do not have a reasonable understanding of what to expect as age-appropriate tasks and behaviors, get a child development book from the library to find out. Parents need to support each other when a child plays one parent against the other. Giving in will encourage the child to continue deceptive practices.

2. Encourage each other to be patient. Toddlers should not be spanked for wetting their pants during potty training, nor should a baby be punished for crying. If either spouse disagrees with the way the other handles a situation, take that person aside (privately) and suggest another way of handling it without criticizing, blaming, or belittling the parent. That’s why the ideal family structure includes two parents, so each can help the other, not make the process more difficult.

3. Don’t favor one child over another, especially in a step-family situation. This creates tension, distrust, and conflict among family members. Both parents should treat each child equally.

4. Agree on a list of privileges to reinforce the benefits that kids will receive (since we all sometimes take things for granted): (a) one hour of TV a day; (b) one hour of computer time a day; (c) 30 minutes of telephone use a day, or whatever privileges you wish to limit. Don’t “spoil” children by providing too many benefits before they complete housework or homework. And don’t reward or punish a child behind your mate’s back. Be unified, or children will find the crack in the wall and use it to their advantage.

5. Do not use kids in a power play during a conflict. For example, don’t tell your child to do something that directly goes against the other spouse. Kids will become confused and quickly lose respect for parents who use them in this way.

6. Don’t set up one parent as the “bad guy” and the other as the “good guy.” Instead, share disciplinary duties, though you may agree that one makes a better spokesperson than the other. Be sure you agree on the rules in private first.

It is important for parents to maintain a united front with their children. When they don’t, it signals a marriage problem more than a child discipline problem. Above all, model the behaviors you want kids to learn, like mutual respect, patience, and fair-mindedness. Starting early, working together, and remaining consistent are key ways of bringing up great kids.

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