Discipline and Consistency

balance.gifToday, parent educator Hetti Wohlgemuth shares tips on discipline, consistency, and complementary parenting approaches:

Consistency. Consistency. Consistency. Such a BIG word when it comes to parents applying discipline. In our home - where my husband and I shared much of the childcare - it was unrealistic to assume that two such different but equally competent people would do childcare in the same exact way. So is this need/insistence on consistency vastly overrated?
Consistency is overrated when two parents dispense discipline. Perfect consistency is also unrealistic, rigid, and paradoxically less than helpful or growth promoting for kids. Two separate but equal parents dispensing discipline can be a model parental checks and balances system. Inconsistency concerns arise when one parent appears strict and the other parent appears lenient. The stricter parent worries that the children may love the lenient parent more and/or will run first to the more lenient parent to get the desired response. I (the stricter parent) am here to tell you that neither needs to be true; our daughters appreciated and loved the structure I provided and they loved and appreciated the occasional lapses in structure their dad allowed them. For example, I wanted to provide sit down, conversational dinners for my girls every evening. When I went out, my husband opted to eat pizza with the girls in front of the TV. But instead of becoming confused, they looked forward to their evenings with their Dad but also loved when they got to "dine" all four of us.

It's all in how less than perfect consistency is executed. Imperfect consistency (or inconsistency) is not going to fly well if parents scream at each other often over their different paths. Respect is required. Per the dinner example above, my husband and I both appreciated the benefits in the other’s approach and never fought about doing it only one way or the other. Subsequently, this taught our girls that there are different, complementary ways to carry out family matters.

It's helpful to agree on some big-ticket items. Although we differed in perspective on things like mealtime approach, we agreed about schoolwork and bedtimes. Homework needed to get done thoroughly and with good effort and bedtimes were firm. Agreement meant we both encouraged and modeled these behaviors.

When there's disagreement on the big-ticket items, communicate, don't name call. If there is disagreement on a big-ticket item, sit down and talk it through. “I” statements (weird as they can sound and feel to construct) are appropriate here: "I noticed Sophie was still up at 10pm the other night when I came home. I worry she'll be cranky the next day because she didn't get her usual ten hours of sleep." Allow the other parent to respond and usually that's enough if the atmosphere is open and nontoxic. Find solutions together. It's more important that both parents keep parenting, no matter the different styles.

Look away, let it go, and pray. This one isn't easy. When Bob took Jessie in her stroller, he would either forget to strap her in, refuse to strap her in, or feel that I was an intrusive mom interfering with his baby care. Somehow I couldn't make Bob see the necessity of using a belt to keep Jessie in her stroller. All I could do was look away, let it go, and pray (to whomever). It was simply better he take her with him than not and he was a wonderful father who didn't want his baby to get hurt. Until one day, it happened; Bob and Jessie went off on an errand, and she stood up in her stroller, fell, and split her lip. He called – sheepishly and unhappily – from the hospital. Jessie was perfectly fine and subsequently Bob changed his mind about straps and strollers without the toxicity of bitter arguments.

Bottom line: It is important that both parents keep parenting and it is important that parenting is performed in a nontoxic household. And while different perspectives sometimes feel frustrating in the moment, these differences can be very positive. Parents can learn that different approaches can, in fact, be complementary, and children can see how their parents resolve differences.