When Parents Disagree on Discipline

Armin Brott's picture

by Armin Brott

My wife and I discipline our children in very different ways. Oftentimes it leads to us arguing in front of them. What can we do to prevent this?

When parents have different disciplining styles, there's bound to be dissension and arguing. Tension's a given anytime two or more people work on the same project but each take a different approach.

Co-parenting is similar to any other partnership. Each person brings to the table what's been learned along the way. As parents, we're influenced by the disciplinary approaches we experienced growing up, and we tend to apply them to our children -- often without first talking them through with our partner.

Imagine a baseball team -- eager to win a game -- but guided by two coaches who follow different rules and dish out contradictory information. Imagine the tension and the reactions of the players as they witness the coaches quarreling. When you and your wife fight in front of the children, you may not be aware of the ways in which they are affected. Some children may learn "that must be the way people resolve conflicts." Others may learn how to play one parent against the other, which causes even more confusion and distress in the family.

The bottom line? You and your wife should try to get on the same page. That's the best way to stop arguing with your kids as witnesses. Here are some strategies that can be helpful:

  • Agree on a signal to alert both of you that the conversation is, or is about to, get too heated and needs to be halted.

  • Make a commitment both to honor and act on the signal. You might walk away and have an agreed-upon cooling off period. Or set a time to revisit your differences in opinion. Or write down what you're feeling and later share it with your partner, who might better understand where you're coming from.

  • Create your own family "rulebook." Write clear, reasonable, attainable rules (for both parents and kids) about what behavior is acceptable and what isn't. Your family, like a baseball team, will be more successful when you have clear guidelines.

  • Consider taking a few parenting classes together. That way you'll have a common parenting experience to draw on. Hearing how other people parent (and why) can give a fresh perspective on what you want for your own family. Even though we may have learned how to parent from our parents, as adults we benefit from learn new skills.

  • Seek a professional third party if you can't find ways to work together in the areas you want to improve. Sometimes an outside perspective helps us understand the underlying reasons for disagreements.

  • Remember your successes. During your marriage, you and your wife have undoubtedly successfully negotiated many situations-with each of you both giving and taking a little until you reached some middle ground. You also be successful at ending arguments in front of the children if you really want to. It won't be easy, but it will be rewarding. And your children will be the ultimate winners.

small squabbles in front of the kids -- and then resolving them peacefully -- can actually be good for them; it shows that it's possible to disagree with someone you love, and that relationships don't end just because people are quarreling with each other.

A nationally recognized parenting expert, Armin Brott is the author of The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips and Advice for Dads-To-Be, The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year, The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the Toddler Years, Throwaway Dads: The Myths and Barriers That Keep Men from Being the Fathers They Want to Be, and The Single Father: A Dad's Guide to Parenting Without a Partner (New Father Series). He has written on parenting and fatherhood for the New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Newsweek and dozens of other periodicals. He also hosts "Positive Parenting," a nationally distributed, weekly talk show, and lives with his family in Oakland, California. Visit Armin's website.

Copyright © Armin Brott. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.