When Parents Disagree on Discipline

The 3 steps for achieving same-page parenting when it comes to your kids

Parenting young children is hard. It is even harder if you and your partner are not aligned in your child-rearing strategies. A strategy called same-page parenting can remove the obstacles that create stress, conflict and anxiety.

Significant differences in parenting create inconsistencies that send mixed signals to kids when they misbehave. Many couples come to me seeking ways to be more coordinated in their parenting. Inadvertently, one parent will try to counter the style of the other, and this inconsistency creates stress for everyone. For example, one parent’s style might be kind, loving and lenient, while the other parent is strict, firm and takes a “tough love” approach. Other times, both parents may vacillate between both styles, which typically results in parents feeling guilty, ineffective and helpless. My role as a coach is to help parents step out of these patterns to find the right blend that sets respectful boundaries for the parent-child relationship.

There are three critical steps to becoming a same-page parenting team: 1. Define your long-term goals for your child and family; 2. Prioritize near-term areas of improvement; 3. Take action. Spell out your parenting philosophy, as well as the tools and responses you need to work with your child(ren).

1. Define your long-term goals

The best place to start is to chart a vision of what it is that you are trying to achieve as a parent and what you wish for your child or children. The process is surprisingly easy, and it can take as little as 5–10 minutes to answer some thought-provoking questions and then share them with your partner. What you will likely find is that your values and goals are quite well aligned. This exercise alone will serve as an anchor that you can return to often to reaffirm that you are the exact same page and that it is where you want to be.

Try answering these questions to help you define your values and long-term parenting goals. Write out your thoughts, share them and discuss which of those values and goals feel most important to both of you.

  • What are the qualities, characteristics or life skills that you hope to instill or influence in your children Or: What kind of human being do you want to nurture? 
  • What are the qualities, characteristics or life skills that you want to bring to your parenting? Or: How do you want to show up for your child?
  • What do you want your family to feel or be like? Or: How do you hope your child will reflect on what it was like growing up in your home or as a part of your family?

2. Prioritize near-term areas of improvement

With family values and long-term goals now in place, it’s time to focus on the specific high-stress situations and behaviors that are creating the most friction in the home. Yes, this might be a long list, but get it out there. Include everything from bedtime struggles to not listening, setting limits on technology, getting out the door or even whining.  Agree with your partner on what are the most urgent items to address and pick a few.  Focus on really making an impact on a few issues, rather than trying to boil the ocean.

3. Take action

Once you are clear on the near-term areas of improvement, then it’s time to take action.  Just knowing your shared values and areas of focus is a huge weight off the minds of most parents. But then, where to begin? This is where things get tricky, because there is no one-size-fits-all, same-page parenting manual. We are inundated with parenting advice all the time, but here are three areas really worth exploring:

  • Consult with a professional (pediatrician, family coach or behavioral specialist).
  • Access community resources. Take a parenting class or workshop together. Most communities have frequent events, and these provide a great way to promote discussion among partners.
  • Read a parenting book (together). There are some amazing resources out there from authors such as Alfie Kohn (Unconditional Parenting), Jane Nelsen (Positive Discipline) and John Gottman (Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child).

No matter what tools or strategies you choose, finding that blend of kindness and firmness will be paramount to any successful same-page strategy.

Taking the time to have same-page parenting conversations early in your parenting process will be an invaluable investment in your family. Clearly define your long-term goals as parents in order to set the stage for your near-term planning. Tackle two or three issues at a time so you don’t become overwhelmed and can measure progress. Take action by becoming informed about resources available to equip you with the skills you will need to be successful. Same-page parenting is the journey. Knowing where you want to get to and why make up the necessary roadmap. Isn’t it time you and your partner sat down to get on the same page? 

Best practices for same-page parenting conversations

  • Acknowledge your partner’s perspective when discussing goals and ideas.
  • Be respectful and specific when offering suggestions or ideas.
  • Be mindful of the language you are using to promote a team effort and that you are not coming from a “me versus you” mind-set.

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