Getting on the Same Page, even if you're not in the same book!

same page

The Same Page: Helping Parents Agree on Discipline
by Patience Domowski, LCSW

Many parents struggle to be on the “same page” with parenting. This is totally normal because both mom and dad have their own different personalities, upbringing, thoughts, and ideas that they bring into the relationship. But it can be so frustrating when the parents cannot agree on the same strategies or level of enforcement for discipline at home. Some parents are not only not on the same page, they aren’t even in the same book! Mom might be really strict with the kids because she’s home all day and needs them to listen to her, and dad feels bad he’s not around much so gives in all the time. Or maybe mom’s the nice soft pushover and dad’s the strict one the kids know they can’t get away with anything around him. There does not have to be a “strict parent” and a “fun parent” or a “good cop”/”bad cop” in a parenting couple- there can be the a balance for each parent. It’s really important to try to figure this out so that there is less arguing between the parents, a more cohesive family, and the children aren’t playing parents against each other.

Here are some ways to try to get on the same page with your spouse or co-parent.

1)     Agree on something!  Try to find even something small you agree on – even if it’s just the outcome like you want your children to be “good people” for example. (Then later define what that means and how to get there!)

 

2)      Decide on an outcome. Do we want our children to be happy, balanced, independent, highly educated, etc. Then work on what’s the most important to focus on for our family (Such as school/education, life skills (like learning how to cook, do chores, etc), sports/activities , being social, being creative, future independence, just being “happy”, spiritual/faith based, being healthy, etc) Do the kids need to work on improving their grades? Or are we worried they will live with parents forever because they won’t do chores and get a job? Do we just want them to be happy, we don’t care what they do for the most part?

 

Parents should decide what they’d like to see in the future so they know what they are working towards. It doesn’t have to be super specific like “my child will be a doctor” or “my kid will never eat red meat” or “I really want them to be married or they won’t be happy”. Outcomes can be more general like “I want my child to be independent” or “I want my child to be as healthy as possible” (if child has health concerns, this might be a goal, for example).

 

 

3)     Discuss both parents’ backgrounds and where they come from. Where her parents strict and his super passive? Was she a “child of the ‘60s”, and he from a super conservative family? Discuss child rearing of the parents, how did the grandparents discipline them, what do you want to do the same and what do you want to do differently. Even discuss where they grew up (urban, rural), cultural backgrounds, even socioeconomic status, etc. (Especially if you don’t already know this, or it wasn’t covered in your pre-marital counseling- for married parents).

4)     Try to find a compromise somewhere. The plan doesn’t have to be all mom’s way or all dad’s way. In fact- it really shouldn’t be that one sided. (Because then the other parent will be upset, or one will undermine the other).

5)     Eachparent make a list of what is important to you- then compare and see which things are the same/almost the same.

6)     Decide which behaviors we’re going to “let go” and which we will make a big deal about. Not everyone will agree on what needs to be focused on and that’s okay. [If you can’t decide, see my other article on hierarchy of behavior for my suggestions.]

7)     Even if parents are split and kids go between homes it would be better to still be on same page at both homes for consistency for the children (if this is possible).

8)     Make a plan! Specific behaviors to target, discipline techniques, etc. Write it down and even post it in the house so everyone knows and remembers what to follow. Look online for templates or ideas for making House Rules, chore charts, behavior charts, etc.

9)     Consult with a therapist if needed. A couples/marriage counselor can help get parents to be on the same page, and a child behavioral therapist can help parents come up with specific behavior interventions for their children.

10)Try to get grandparents, babysitters, etc on the same page with the parents for consistency. If the kids know grandma will say yes if mom says no, or the babysitter allows kid to do this and dad would not, it’s going to be difficult to maintain the level of control and discipline you may want in the home. So try to get everyone on board, if possible.

Consequences and Discipline

kid in time out consequences

When disciplining a child the most important thing is that they LEARN THE LESSON, not receive the punishment. Does that make sense? Yes, they should receive a consequence, but we need to make sure they actually learned the lesson so they don't repeat the undesired behavior.

You also want to make sure the consequences make the most sense so that the lesson is learned.

Natural Consequences and Logical Consequences: 
Natural Consequences are the BEST because they are most likely to happen and tend to teach the best lesson. Logical Consequences are consequences that make the most sense, sometimes based on what the natural consequence would be if allowed to happen.
Here's an example: If you leave your bike out in the rain, it will likely rust. (or get stolen!). So if your child doesn't put his/her bike away- they should lose the privilege of being able to ride their bike (for a day or week perhaps). Another example: if you are mean to the cat, the cat won't want anything to do with you. So if the child is teasing/hitting the pets, then maybe they can't play with them for a day. If the natural consequence does actually occur this can be a very good lesson for the child (or spouse!).
So try to make the "punishment fit the crime" as they say, if possible. Also check with the child to see if they learned the lesson. "So honey you can't play with your toys today because you didnt clean them up yesterday. I hope you make better choices tomorrow", or "So what did you learn from not being able to play with your friends today? Yes you need to play nicely with them if you want a play date."

When you can't use the above consequences: (and other info)

 

 

  • Take away a privilege that they care about. (This will vary depending on the child and child's age. TV, computer, wii, video games, ipad, cell phone, car use for teens, sporting event, trip to a special place that was planned, etc). Even if they say they don't care- they usually still do. Make sure they realize the consequence too. For example they lose going to baseball. So take them to baseball practice but they can't participate. (Believe me- they will care!) If they sit home and play video games when they lost baseball practice this isn't really going to work! If they lose 5 minutes of pool time, don't let them play in the house, have them sit poolside and watch their friends/siblings play. 

 

 

  • Have them "Re-do" the behavior the correct way. "Try again" you could say when they answer you rudely. (See other post on that topic) 
  • Try Rewards- (see other blog post on that)
  • Have them earn their privileges instead of having them already available to them (like earning TV or computer time). 
  • Get creative! 
  • Discuss the lesson after/during the consequence
  • Ignore them. This is the simplest and sometimes the most effective skill. Its called "Planned Ignoring". Ignore the tantrum, ignore the negotiation, ignore the arguing, ignore the attention-seeking behaviors. You can say "Im waiting until you are calm." or "Let me know when you are ready", and turn away from them (don't laugh even if they are being hilarious!!) and wait for them to stop the behavior (or do the direction you told them to do). 
  • Don't argue! Don't negotiate! Give the direction. Remind them of the consequence. Then wait for child to do it. If they don't- they get a consequence. It's that simple! (TIP: Pre-set up a list of House Rules and Resulting Consequences so you dont have to think of a consequence in the moment, also so the child knows what to expect). 
  • Time outs - this isn't just the typical 3-5 minutes on the step or couch or corner, but also an item can be in time out (like a toy kids are fighting over can be put out of play for a few minutes or longer), child has to sit out and not participate in something (see ideas above), child isn't given attention for inappropriate attention seeking behaviors. Remember with time outs you can do one minute per age for little kids. Older kids this isn't usually used. Special needs kids- do the amount of minutes they are developmentally, or half of what their age actually is, or whatever is attainable!
  • Have the child explain why they got the time out/consequence to you, and how/what they will do differently and better next time. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART. This is how you can tell if they learned their lesson. I know I keep repeating this, but that's how important it is! "Yes you were in time out for hitting your sister, what should you do next time she takes your toy from you?" If the child can't come up with a response, wait and repeat the question so they don't just get away with saying "I dont know". Then if they genuinely don't know, throw out some suggestions and have them pick the right response. If possible act it out/role play the situation too. (With older kids (3-7 yr olds), little kids probably won't be able to do this(2-3 yr olds). 

Apologies: If you give your child a consequence and they beg and plead saying they are sorry. You should NOT give in, however acknowledge they are sorry, but still give a consequence (after all if you were to do something wrong at work, you might say you are sorry but may still be put on probation. Or if you got a speeding ticket, you can apologize to the cop, but he will likely still give you that ticket!) "I'm glad you are sorry, but you still are getting a consequence". 

Pick your battles! Hierarchy of Behaviors

dad arguing with kid

If you aren't sure which battles to pick with your students/children/clients here is an easy way to make that decision (Ive heard these before, so nothing new here, just condensed information).

These are ranked from MOST important to intervene in first, to least important. Once you have the first ones accomplished, solved, controlled, managed, etc then move down the list!

  1. Dangerous behaviors - anything UNSAFE, like running off (eloping) down the street, not holding mom/dads hand in parking lot, threatening or actually hurting people, weapons, aggression (kicking, biting, hitting, etc), suicidal, homicidal, etc
  2. Destructive behaviors - destroying property, throwing things, climbing on things, ruining other people's belongings, hurting furniture/walls, somewhat lower level aggression than above, etc.
  3. Disruptive behaviors - interrupts class at school, causes major turmoil/problem in the home- behaviors like screaming, yelling, threatening, running around, calling out at school (sometimes), loudness/volume of voice, some stimming behaviors in autistic kids, not getting along with other children/social skills problems, etc...
  4. Disturbing behaviors - annoying behaviors like talking disrespectfully, biting nails, eating boogers, scripting (autistic kids), stimming (sometimes), whining, teasing, etc
    (PLEASE NOTE- These should definitely be addressed!! However first work on the above problems if the child has all of these types of behaviors, the unsafe ones are the most concerning and need to be addressed FIRST).

Example: Child screams, tantrums, kicks, throws things, talks disrespectfully, and calls out in class. He doesn't have any friends.
What do you work on first?

  • First address his aggression like tantrums, kicking, throwing things in the classroom
  • Then target the screaming, and other disruptive behaviors
  • Next work on calling out
  • Last work on him making friends/getting along with peers

Does that make sense?
Often you can work on all the behaviors simultaneously, but some children have so many behaviors and needs that its impossible to target all at once, so this gives you an outline of the hierarchy of behaviors. I hope it helps!