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What to Do When Your Child Misbehaves With One Parent

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“She was horrible.” I listened to my friend Liz’s husband tell her all the ways their daughter misbehaved while Liz and I were out to lunch. “She didn’t listen. She fought everything I said. She rolled her eyes so much she probably got dizzy.” Later, via text, Liz told me it’s common that their child acts differently with one parent. And usually, Liz gets the nice version.

Now, if you’re the parent who gets the Hyde version of your Jeckyl-and-Hyde kid, you might wonder what you’re doing wrong or if your kid likes you as much as he or she likes Dad. Here are 3 questions to ask to know why your child acts differently with one parent. But don’t worry—we’ve also got ideas for what to do about it.

1. How is your kid’s self-esteem?

Often when kids act up with one parent, it’s because they are struggling with self-confidence. They feel weak, so they target the parent who has less power. It makes them feel powerful and in control.

If children are struggling to express another emotion like anger or powerlessness, they need you to nurture their emotional intelligence. So allow them to express themselves, empathize with them, and work on problem-solving.

2. Which adult can your child manipulate?

Does Dad always give in? Does he not follow through with punishments or consequences? Then your child is going to push the boundaries and disobey him more than you.

Try to identify manipulative behaviors that are triggering for you or your husband. For example, your daughter might yell, “If you loved me you’d let me quit softball,” if she knows your trigger is that you doubted your parents’ love for you. And don’t make excuses for her. A lack of accountability will only encourage her misbehavior.

3. Is there inconsistency in how you and your husband parent?

If your kids get two different messages from you and their father, they’ll see it as a golden opportunity to divide and conquer. Kids will use a lack of an alliance between parents because if you’re fighting over them, you’re not disciplining them.

Get on the same page with Dad. Even if you’re divorced, aim for consistency. It’s natural for the parent who’s getting the difficult version of the child to be frustrated or even bitter, but don’t let it put a wedge between you. You can pause an argument with your child to say, “I’m going to call your dad to discuss what we’re going to do.” Remember you’re a team, so use “we” language.

Does your child act differently with one parent? Do you get the well-behaved or misbehaving version?

ASK YOUR CHILD...

What makes a team strong?

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