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

Father talking to son

Getty Images 

If you and your partner disagree 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 disagree on discipline strategies as parents?

Reasons for Disagreements

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 they don't do their chores on time. In this case, that parent might suggest that you 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: marital or partner discord.

Discuss differences as they occur to prevent bigger problems from emerging in the future. Understanding parental disagreements over discipline will help you and your partner become a united team.

Consequences of Disagreements

Disagreements about parenting can easily lead to relationship problems. Sometimes one parent tends to side with the children, which 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 between partners and 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 their love for their children.

Obviously, having disagreements regarding discipline strategies for kids isn't healthy for parents or the children. But what can you do if you are in the midst of discord?

Accept Your Differences

It's important to accept that you and your partner will disagree on parenting issues at one time or another (unless one parent doesn't express their opinion, which you should address as well). There are many different ways to raise a child.

Discipline is a lifelong process for parents and kids. A child's needs evolve and vary with age. Likewise, you and your partner will likely change as well as you learn from your parenting experiences.

Different Opinions

When you and your partner have different ideas about what's best for your children, you must respect your partner's opinion. This doesn't mean that you need to agree. However, 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!

Different Parenting Styles

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 partner uses a similar or different approach. Understanding how you each tackle the same problem with a different perspective can be helpful.

Different Temperaments

It’s also likely that you may have different parental temperaments. For example, perhaps you have a higher tolerance for some behavior, and they have a higher tolerance for another. Take a look at how each of your temperaments fits each child’s temperament, as this is one of the five factors influencing discipline strategy effectiveness.

Find Similar Ground

Once you’ve identified your differences, look for some similar ground. You and your partner likely have similar goals for your children. You're likely both invested in ensuring your children grow up to become responsible adults. However, you 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 aspect, but you need to agree that you can follow the plan in front of the kids. So it’s likely that you’ll both need to make 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 their chores. If they don’t get them done, they won’t earn their allowance. This may be an effective consequence that will motivate them to do their 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 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 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 more important than which discipline strategy you’ll use.

It’s important to role model appropriate behavior in front of your kids. For example, if your kids see you fight, they’re more likely to resolve conflict in a similar fashion. So 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 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.

Reach 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, here are some options:

  • Parenting groups: It's not uncommon for a partner to understand something you are saying only when they hear another person say the same thing.
  • Parenting classes and books: For example, 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.

A Word From Verywell

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 relational discord and negatively affect children.

Take a moment to look through some of the strategies above, and understand each other's viewpoints. 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 to compromise. You both have the same goal, and that is to love and guide your children to the best of your ability.

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.