“You are grounded from playing outside for the rest of the month,” my husband bellowed at our child. I shot him a look of terror and thought, “No! How could you say that? Do you want me to be miserable?” He looked back at me as if to say, “Oops.” It’s tough, we learned, when you and your husband aren’t on the same page when you need to discipline your child.
This struggle usually begins by assuming your spouse has the same perspective on how to handle misbehavior, when in fact, he or she does not. This can cause problems in your marriage as well as your relationship with your kids. After 13 years, we still have this conflict every once in a while, but we’ve found practical ways to get on the same page when it comes to discipline. Here are six of them.
1. Don’t throw out a consequence when your anger is at its peak.
You can’t always anticipate what your kids will say or do. Sometimes, it infuriates us or shocks us, and we respond in anger. When this emotion rises up in you, it’s best to hold off on giving out a consequence until you have had a chance to calm down. This will rule out unrealistic consequences, such as “you are grounded for life,” as well as consequences your spouse has to deliver but doesn’t agree with.
2. Talk in private.
When determining how to discipline your child, talk over the situation with your spouse and express your thoughts—but not in front of the kids. Discussing discipline privately gives you and your husband a chance to be totally honest.
3. Agree to be a team.
Even though you may have worked out some major discipline differences in private, present a unified team in front of the kids. Say “mommy and daddy” or “we” have decided that this should be your consequence instead of making one or the other of you out to be the bad guy. Plus, when parents are a team, children feel more secure. It also shows that you respect each other.
4. Talk about your experiences.
You each had a unique childhood and therefore, it’s good to discuss the discipline you experienced. This helps you understand where the other person is coming from. It gives you a chance to respect each other’s needs, beliefs, and feelings—which often can be strong when it comes to this topic. Talk about what you wish to do the same or different. Most of the time, you’ll need to negotiate and come to an agreement about how to mesh your styles and preferences.
5. Talk about consequences in general and in advance.
There are a lot of regular, recurring kinds of misbehavior that you can anticipate because, well, kids are kids. So talk about what you will do in these cases and agree on a specific plan ahead of time. For example, when your son chooses to hit his brother, decide before it happens that he will go to the time out chair for five minutes. For a list of creative consequences, click here.
6. When in doubt, delay.
Sometimes, there isn’t time to talk about it with your spouse. Maybe he is at work or out of town. Say, “daddy and I will talk about this tonight.” Sometimes, this comes with an added bonus: your children have a chance to stop and think about their actions and show remorse (or not—either way, that’s helpful information for how to proceed with discipline).
How do you and your spouse get on the same page when it comes to discipline?