Q: What can be done when there are two different parents with different temperaments and different ways of handling things?
A: Acknowledge to your kids that mom and dad do handle things differently, and that’s okay. However, you will not tolerate being played against each other.
Children are exposed to different people and different rules all the time. Your rules are different than your child’s teacher’s rules, yet your kids comply with both sets of rules every day. Admittedly, a great many things need to be discussed when parents adopt this way of parenting, but it’s better than constant parental fighting about rules or damaging your relationship.
Begin by having an adult discussion where decide to agree on three basic concepts when correcting behavior. Things like hearing feelings first, or not acting as the judge and jury, but being the facilitator so the kids can learn, or requiring that you both use the same consequences for the same broken rules. Use these ideas or create your own. Agreeing to three concepts creates a common understanding between mom and dad, and your kids see it being played out again and again, even though each of you will be using your own words and unique style to correct behavior.
Step One: The End Result
Misbehavior is the end result, not the beginning point. All misbehavior has it roots in unexpressed or unacknowledged feelings. When a child’s feelings go unacknowledged (s)he has no other choice but to use some kind behavior to express the unsaid feelings. Children do this because we have inadvertently shown them, time and time again, that they gain more of our “full” attention when they misbehave than at other times during the day. Look up the concept of Parent Pie™, pg. 49 in Stop Reacting and Start Responding for the full explanation of this concept. Based on previous experiences, their immature thinking makes an unconscious decision to create misbehavior to call attention to their needs. This is an unconscious habit young children use daily.
If a parent has the habit of only focusing on the end result, the misbehavior, instead of addressing the unmet needs, misunderstanding of the situation, or lack of skills, you’ll find yourself angry and incapable of teaching. However, if both parents agree to stop waiting until misbehavior occurs before they get involved, and both agree to address their child’s feelings when they first occur, then it doesn’t matter if they use different styles because they’ll both be able to address things calmly.
Step Two: Empathy and Connecting
Some parents’ fear that acknowledging a child’s feelings about a correction or a consequence will make things worse. Or they fear their empathy will be translated as having revoked a consequence that’s already been made. That doesn’t have to be the case.
Be empathetic with your child after you have handed out the bad news about a consequence. Let her know, “Yes, it’s not fun that you’re grounded, or that you lost desert today.” And when she says, “If you know it’s not fun then why are you doing it?” Simply tell the truth, “Because my love, that’s what happens in this house when you do (fill in the blank), plus you agreed to those rules, remember?” Then stick to your decision.
Don’t forget to send a connection message too. Tell your child how you’ll be connecting after the consequence is over. Try saying, “We can read or play a game as soon as you (fill in the blank).” This tells your child that you’re not going to stay mad at her, you’re just enforcing the consequence, and that’s comforting to her.
Step Three: Expectations
Some parents believe that a rule is not truly enforced unless a child is filled with remorse or feels guilty for having done whatever (s)he did.
Other parents believe that a rule has not been truly enforced unless the child calmly accepts the consequence without any anger or argument.
Some parents feel that if a child objects, shows anger, or isn’t remorseful enough after being corrected, then the parent is required to pile on consequence after consequence until the child walks away feeling appropriately defeated and dejected.
There’s no need to emotionally make your child pay for his or her behavior, however being a parent does mean teaching your child about behavior. Your children will learn a lot more from your empathy and connection, plus enforcement of the amends required for the misbehavior, than from your distance and anger. I know it seems counterintuitive, but it’s a known psychological fact.
Every child handles being corrected, given a consequence, or being caught for misbehaving, differently. Unless, your child is openly hostel or is making a clear concerted effort to up the ante, they understand that they were wrong when given a calm, empathetic consequence.
The lashing out they do, the anger they express, is their immature way of stating, “I don’t like this” or “I think it’s unfair” or “You hurt my feelings,” or all of the above. Don’t engage in their reaction or you’ve just created another layer of conflict.
When a child gets angry or sulks off after being given a consequence, both parents regardless of parenting style, need to agree not to punish further. Agree that you both will silently stand your ground and always support the parent who handed out the correction. Unless of course, the parent’s anger is over the top, or there’s a physical aspect to the correction. And if your child can’t tolerate silence from you, use as few words as possible so they don’t get even more anxious.
Your calm silence expresses your authority. It tells your child it’s okay to be mad at the correction, while showing them that their anger doesn’t have the power to sway your decision. Believe it or not your silent authority is comforting to your child. Kids need you to be strong when they can’t.
Agreeing to these three concepts, in a form that works for your family, allows you to present a united front to your kids, regardless of parenting style differences.
Now, go hug your kids.