What to Do When Parents Don't Agree on Discipline Strategies

How Parents Can Work Together on Discipline

Don't let parental disagreements over discipline affect your child
Learn how to cope with parental disagreements over discipline with these steps. Marc Debnam/Stone/Getty Images

If you and your spouse or partner don't agree on discipline strategies, you're not alone. Couples come from different backgrounds and have different temperaments. One may be more tolerant while the other is strict. While these differences can be complementary at times, they can also lead to conflict. What should you do if you don't agree on discipline strategies as parents?

When Parents Disagree 

Most couples differ at times when it comes to discipline. For example, parents often disagree on when to intervene with a behavior. One parent may believe that a child should not be given reminders if he doesn't do his chores on time. In this case, that parent might suggest that you simply withhold the child's allowance if the child forgets. The other parent, however, may believe that children should be given extra chances. What happens too often is that the discipline problem (what the child did or didn't do) gets pushed aside and a new problem arises: that of marital or partner discord.

It's important to discuss differences when they arise or they can lead to bigger problems in the future. Let's take a look at how and why parental disagreements over discipline occur, and what you can do in order to be a united team for your children.

Consequences of Disagreements

Disagreements about parenting can easily lead to marital problems. Sometimes one parent tends to side with the children and it can turn into “us” against the other parent. Then, instead of working together as a team, parents begin working against each other.

It’s also not healthy for kids when parents have frequent disagreements over discipline. If you tend to be tougher on the kids, it will likely set you up to be the “bad guy” and your kids will quickly learn to ask the other parent for things. This can lead to communication problems not only between partners but between one of the partners and the children. But it goes deeper than this. Inconsistent consequences can cause children to feel anxious because they aren't certain what to expect. 

When talking with your partner, keep in mind that it's not just the specific topic that's the problem. Behind the topic lies the love of the parents for their children. When one parent feels strongly that one approach is better than another for disciplining a child, all of this emotion comes to a head. An attack on one parent's discipline style can end up feeling like an attack on his or her love for their children.

Resolving Your Differences 

Obviously having disagreements when it comes to discipline strategies for kids isn't healthy for parents or for the children. But what can you do if you are in the midst of discord? Let's take a look at some clear steps you can take so that you can discipline as a united front. Keep in mind that this is a lifelong process when you have children. Discipline issues change with age, and parents change as well due to their experiences along the way. Here's what you can do to discipline as a team.

Accept Your Differences

It's important to accept that you and your partner are going to disagree on parenting issues at one time or another (unless one parent simply doesn't express his or her opinion, which should be addressed as well). There are many different ways to raise a child. When you and your partner have different ideas about what's best for your children, it's essential that you respect your partner's opinion. This doesn't mean that you need to agree. You may have to be comfortable with agreeing to disagree. If you're struggling with this, remember that differences in discipline techniques reflect a desire on both of your parts to be the best parents possible. This is a great starting point!

You can begin by considering the four types of parenting styles and think about which one best describes your approach. Then, determine whether or not your spouse uses a similar or different approach. Understanding how you each tackle the same problem with a different perspective can be helpful.

It’s also likely that you may have different parental temperaments. Perhaps you have a higher tolerance for some behavior and she has a higher tolerance for another. Take a look at how each of your temperaments fit with each child’s temperament as this is one of the five factors that influence discipline strategy effectiveness.

Find Similar Ground

Once you’ve identified your differences, look for some similar ground. It’s likely that you and your partner have similar goals for your children. You're likely both invested in ensuring your children grow up to become responsible adults. You just have different views on how much self-discipline you should expect the kids to have.

Sit down together to work out a plan that you can both agree to follow. You don’t necessarily need to agree on every single aspect, but you need to agree that you can follow the plan in front of the kids. It’s likely that you’ll both need to do a little bit of compromise.

For example, perhaps you can both agree that your 10-year-old will get one reminder each night to do his chores. If he doesn’t get them done, he won’t earn his allowance. This may be an effective consequence that will motivate him to do his chores the next night.

Establish Household Rules

Work as a team to establish household rules. Make it a simple list of rules that are important to both of you. Usually, roughly 10 rules are sufficient. Make sure you include general rules about respect, chores, and homework.

Then, outline a list of possible consequences that you can both agree on when the rules are broken. There may need to be different consequences for each child. Also discuss the rewards your children will earn when they do follow the rules, such as getting an allowance for doing chores.

Present a United Front

Agree to present a united front to the kids. Share the rules with the kids and agree that you will equally follow through with consequences. The security that presenting a united front will give your kids is likely more important than which discipline strategy you’ll use.

It’s important to role model appropriate behavior in front of your kids. If your kids see you fight, they’re more likely to resolve conflict in a similar fashion. Instead, save your disagreements for when you and your partner can talk privately.

When your kids ask one of you to do something—when possible—don’t give an answer until you talk with your partner first. If your son asks to go to a friend’s house tomorrow night, tell him you’ll need to talk to the other parent first. This will send the message that the two of you are working together and communicating well about parenting decisions.

Reaching Out for Help

Even if you have the best intentions, working together to properly discipline your children can be challenging. If you're finding this to be the case, think of your options. Parenting groups are sometimes very helpful. It's not uncommon for a partner to understand something you are saying only when he or she hears another person say the same thing.

Parenting classes and books, such as "Parenting With Love and Logic" by Foster Cline and Jim Fay, can be a great way to look at your parenting together. This approach stresses using natural consequences when your children misbehave. Some parents even look forward to having their kids misbehave so they can practice the techniques involved. Not only do approaches such as this bring you together in understanding that you are both motivated by your love for your child, but they seem to remove some of the landmines so that you can talk at a deeper level.

Revisit Your Plan Weekly

Set aside time each week to talk with your partner about parenting strategies. Don’t be afraid to try new things and make changes to the plan as needed. Just make sure to present the changes to your children ahead of time.

As your children grow older, their needs will change and your discipline strategies will need to change with them. If one discipline strategy isn’t working, work as a team to develop a different plan. There are many different ways to deal with behavior problems and it’s important to be flexible with your approach.

Bottom Line

Parenting isn't easy, and with the differences in people, it would be surprising if partners didn't experience conflict in choosing the best ways to discipline their children. Yet we know that these disagreements can both create marital discord and negatively affect children.

Take a moment to look through some of the strategies above, and understand each other's viewpoint. Remember that you can disagree without disrespecting your partner. Knowing that being united as parents is one of the best gifts you can give your kids, look for ways you can compromise. You both have the same goal, and that is to love and guide your children to the best of your ability.

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