Category: defiant children

When parents disagree on discipline

When parents disagree on discipline

Your primary relationship comes first

Stress can affect the most solid relationships. Families like yours, with a troubled child, have a higher divorce rate than the general population, 50% higher. Coping with your child will bring out any and all relationship issues that may have been manageable under normal circumstances. If your relationship is falling apart, and it was mostly healthy before this period of stress, then it must be a priority over the child for now. Get counseling, if not together than singly. Or ask for help from supportive friends–prayers, cheerleading, or the opportunity to vent. Partners must stand by each other and present a solid front as the family leaders. This is just as important for your child as it is for you. Let this draw you closer together rather than pull you apart.

The most common situation I’ve seen is men emphasizing discipline and women emphasizing protection–neither is wrong.

This must be worked out and balanced.  Your mission must be identical and your goals must be balanced.  Sometimes the child needs discipline, and sometimes they need protection and nurturing.  Discipline need not be uncaring or harmful, and protectiveness need not be enabling.  While your grapple with this ongoing polarity, here’s a good way to manage in the mean time.

  • Stand strong, shoulder-to-shoulder
    If you strongly disagree, then together make a list of the things you agree on and worry about the disagreements later. This list should include:
  • List each parent’s strong points, so you can remember what attracted you in the first place, and strengthen your bond and respect.
  • Never ever argue in front of children, and make a rule for how and where to argue.  Observing parents arguing creates problems that worsen your child’s behavior.  Stress is an obvious result.  But what about kids who manipulate their parents in order to get their way with something?  Parents can be played against each other!  This happened to me and it damaged my relationship with my children’s father for years (yes, we divorced too).  Don’t let this happen to you.
  • An agreed-upon role for each parent, which is something that they’re good at.  If one parent is competent at handling a specific challenge, the other steps back, and vice versa.
  • Take turns managing the household for a period while the other takes a break.
  • Set aside personal feelings temporarily to co-manage one specific little problem at a time, a problem you both agree on.

Have each other’s back

A true story with names changed:

Susan and her daughter Pam were constantly fighting over who hurt who the most by what each said. Jason, husband and father, was frustrated and angry by these conflicts, but avoided interfering because he knew he’d upset both his wife and daughter. Yet Jason was always able to calm Pam down quickly because their relationship was different. One day, Jason took his wife aside and suggested they try something. He suggested that Susan step back from certain daily interactions with Pam, those which always ended in fights, and let him do the communicating. Susan did not like the idea that Pam had “won” by getting all of her dad’s attention, nor did she like the implication she couldn’t handle their daughter! But Jason came up with the idea that if he saw Susan and Pam slipping into a fight, he would use a code phrase, like “Hey dear, can you help me find the _____?”, and Susan would catch herself, save face by stepping out to look for the ____, and let Dad take over. This worked wonders rather quickly. Nothing was ever discussed openly, but after a few weeks, both mother and daughter started to catch themselves starting a fight, and one or both would find some reason to step away from the situation.

–Margaret

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Are you trying to reason with an irrational child?

Are you trying to reason with an irrational child?

I regularly speak with parents with children with a brain disorder and a history of serious behavior problems. Many are truly at the end of their rope.  The parent is so exasperated by their child’s relentless acting out, they start repeating themselves to exhaustion. and wondering why the child isn’t getting it.

They plead for answers: “Why does he keep doing this?, or, ” Why doesn’t she stop after I’ve explained things over and over.”  Then they answer their own questions:  “It’s because he always wants his way,” or, “She’s doing this to get back at me.”

The parent then lists all the ways they’ve tried reasoning with their child or disciplining with consequences.  As they tell their story, they continue to ask questions and provide answers, going around and around and around:  “He does this just to make me mad;”  “She manipulates the situation because she wants more (something) and I won’t give it to her.”  What’s interesting to me is that these children can be quite young (4 or 5), too young to expect reasoning in the first place, or they can be young adults (early 20′s) who have a long track record of doing things that don’t make sense.

Saying something a 1000 times doesn’t work. Your child tunes you out.

Parents’ stress and frustration vanish if they accept that their child is not ready to reason or control their behaviors.  It’s not their fault, and not the parents’ fault. Irrationality is the hallmark of brain-based problems, and chronically challenging behaviors are the evidence.

If you feel you have run into brick walls over and over again, and your child is not learning what you’re teaching, do both of yourselves a favor and stop trying the same things that still don’t work.  Stop assuming they will  listen, or that they even can listen.  Your child or teen does not have an evil plan to push your buttons and control your moods like a puppet.

When you find yourself trying to reason with a troubled child or teen (or young adult), step back and calm yourself this way, and ask what your child needs in the moment.  Then change your whole approach.

  • Try different ways of communicating, such as softening your tone of voice.
  • Pay attention to whether they respond best to words or images, and use what works most naturally for them.  Try using touch to communicate, or withdrawing touch if that’s threatening to them.
  • Post (polite) signs and simple house rules in the house as reminders for things they need to do every day.
  • Show instead of tell. Your child or teen may not be able to learn through their ears.  Or they tune you out.  Demonstrate how instead of telling them how.
  • Avoid explaining how their behavior will hurt them in the future.  Children and teens often cannot track how pushing one domino leads to all the dominoes falling.

If you’re nagging and harping and chiding your child, forgive yourself.

It’s so common one might call it normal.  You are still a good parent who wants the best for your son or daughter.  Over the many years I’ve facilitated parent support groups, I’ve heard so many regret how they’ve treated their child once they begin to understand that it won’t work.  You are not alone.  Raising a child like yours is tough, but you’ll move on and figure things out.  Don’t give up.