Todd is a traditional sort of guy. He believes that rules are valuable, and he likes to see them followed, especially by his children. In contrast, Todd’s wife, Kaitlin, is a nurturing mother who would rather reason with their kids than enforce limits on them. Todd has noticed that when Kaitlin says “no” to their son, he fusses and whines until she relents. After having watched this scene play out repeatedly, Todd feels frustrated that Kaitlin backs down too easily. He knows it’s not easy to put up with their son’s complaining. But, he wishes she would stand her ground and not reward their toddler’s “torture methods” with getting what he wants.
What to Say:
Todd: Let’s go in the other room for a minute.
Kaitlin: OK. What?
Todd: Our little knee-biter is wearing out both of us with his constant fussing. Can he ever just give it a rest? I don’t want to see either of us give in anymore. You said he can’t watch another TV show today, and I agree with that decision
Kaitlin: Actually, he makes me feel like screaming. When I’m about to lose it, I feel like it’s easier to just let him watch one more show. Honestly, he’s plucking my very last nerve.
Todd: When I see you capitulate to his whining, I feel like you’d let him run wild. But, he needs to know that we set the rules around here. It’s okay, and I’m here to back you up.
Kaitlin: I don’t want to be too hard on him. What if he starts to resent us?
Todd: If our son doesn’t learn how to honor his parents as a toddler, how will he ever respect us as a teenager? We’re in this together, so we need to be on the same page with our discipline.
Why This Works:
Debating about obedience issues in front of a spirited child can backfire. Instead, Todd pulls Kaitlin aside, explains the importance of setting limits, and asks her to help maintain a united front. One of the biggest mistakes parents can make is to second-guess each other in front of their kids. Determine the parental limits you set for your child gently and in private.
What Doesn’t Work:
Avoid berating a lenient spouse by saying they’re too weak. In addition, don’t drag up past decisions to back up you side of the discussion. Leave the past in the past and focus on the current issue to solve the problem.
More importantly, take active steps to prevent kids from running the show around the home and in public. The fact is that kids don’t always know what is best for them. They often need to be told to stop watching TV and go play outside. Establishing boundaries is healthy for kids and makes them feel secure.
Try This Activity:
Work together with your spouse to enforce any new limits that you’ve agreed to set. Then, schedule an activity that helps build your family interaction, such as:
- Ride your bikes around the block
- Walk the dog
- Play a card game
- Cook a healthy meal
After the kids are asleep, talk with your spouse about your parenting styles. Praise each other for areas of strength such as being warm, consistent, and patient. Ask how you can help if you’ve noticed any areas of weakness, such as flying off the handle, being too permissive, or attempting to over-control. Getting on the same page with your spouse will help your kids get on the same page with you as they get older.