As individuals, we have our personal beliefs, values, and expectations on how to make decisions for our lives. These differences can be seen as individual perspective, our point of view. Once the role of parenting starts, each individual must rely on his or her perspective to protect, guide, and educate his or her child.
One of the most challenging factors of parenting can be collaborating with your partner’s perspective on how to discipline your child. But, what happens when you have tried with your spouse and you each hold different parenting styles?
Discipline Differences and Conflict
Solving difficult situations is a part of everyday life, and is needed for the family system to be able to work collaboratively. Conflict among partners can easily escalate when one partner asks the other partner to change his or her behavior or style of parenting. What is often ignored in conflict is the individual perspective of each partner and the reason behind the parenting style. Each individual perspective can offer overlooked ideas on how to address parenting dilemmas.
When there is conflict due to discipline differences in the home, research has shown the effects it can have on the entire family.
- Children that experience unresolved co-parenting conflicts may feel anxiety, guilt, and anger. (Barthassat, J. 2014. Positive and negative effects of parental conflicts on children’s condition and behavior. Journal of European Psychology Students, 5, 10-18.)
- The behavior of parents during conflict can strengthen or weaken the overall satisfaction of the relationship. (Peterson, P. & Green, S. 2009. Families first: Keys to successful family functioning communication. Virginia Cooperative Extension. Retrieved from https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/350/350-092/350-092_pdf.pdf.)
- Children feel confident in their parents when disagreements are decided “behind closed doors.” (Stephens, K. 2007. When parents disagree on how to discipline. Parenting Exchange. Retrieved from http://www.easternflorida.edu/community-resources/child-development-centers/parent-resource-library/documents/when-parents-disagree-on-discipline.pdf.)
In other words, it matters more how parents resolve parental conflict rather than who enforces the right discipline.
Behaviors to Help Parents Discuss Discipline
Use “I- Statements”
Use “I-statements” when you begin to share your thoughts and feelings with your partner. Start your sentences with “I feel” or “I think” instead of “You didn’t help with” or “You make me mad when.” The use of “I-statements” allows you to share your thoughts and feelings openly with your partner and lessen the likelihood of him or her feeling defensive. It also allows couples to communicate their individual perspective about the issue and avoid putting blame on the other partner.
If what your partner is saying escalates your emotions, try your best to exercise the following to remain calm: breathe slowly, relax your posture, or pinch your thumb and forefinger together. If these do not help in keeping you or your partner from becoming upset or angry, stop the discussion. An example of what could be said next is, “I can’t calmly express myself right now. Let’s talk about it in an hour, after I’ve calmed down and had time to think.” It is better for partners to take a break in order to deescalate the argument and avoid hurtful behavior.
Be respectful about his or her point of view on the topic. Ask additional questions about his or her point of view; it could provide insightful information that may be helpful. Respecting one another not only aids in co-parenting, but also can improve your relationship with your partner. Always hold the rule that both opinions are valued equally; one is not more important than the other.
When discussing a topic privately with your partner, strive to stay focused on the topic you first initiated. It can be challenging and overwhelming to discus all the issues at one time. Work together efficiently, not necessarily quickly, and keep unrelated issues out of the discussion.
Two Options to Display Parental Unity
Once both partners have been able to hear and consider ideas on how to address the discipline issue, it’s time to make a decision. There are two options on how to move forward on a discipline conflict.
The first option requires both partners to negotiate and compromise on a decision. Each partner may need to give up something, but both must agree upon the solution. The parental decision is then communicated to the child, and the child is able to experience the unity of both parents involved in his or her discipline.
The second option is used when parents are still in disagreement on parenting styles and “agree to disagree.” In this option, both partners agree to let one of the partners make a decision for the couple. Even if the couple is not in full agreement with the outcome, they both agree to be supportive of the following consequence for their child and move forward. This option still requires both partners to communicate with their child as a united front. But most important, the child must not be able to identify the disapproval or power struggle between parents.
Conflict between a couple is natural, especially when both partners are active parents in their child’s discipline. Yet conflict can encourage dialogue and deeper understanding of one another. Although it may be uncomfortable to resolve discipline conflicts, always keep in mind the reason behind the disagreements: your children. Every step toward conflict resolution with your partner is a step in the right direction.
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