Do you have a united front?

Do you ever find yourself saying ‘wait until your father gets home’ or ‘Dad will be furious’? Or even ‘You’d better not tell your Mum’?

We often find it challenging dealing with our children’s behaviour and want the back up of another adult to re-enforce our message. But do you have a united front with your partner or indeed with any adult (Grandparent, Nanny etc.) who helps you parent your child?

Changing roles as parents

In e past it was often the father-figure who would dole out the punishments when he returned from work. However, we live in a much more equal society now. Dads are spending much more time with their children. They don’t want to be the law-enforcer. In fact, it is more likely that Mum will be stricter as she deals with her children from day to day and Dad will be the indulger or ‘play-mate’.  Children start to learn that one parent is much more restricting than the other and they can play one off against the other to get their own way.

The benefits of different parenting styles

My husband and I have very different parenting styles, but over the years I have come to realise that children can benefit from this. I tend to let the children have their own music in the car and will go out of my way to find out what everyone wants to do on an outing or holiday. My husband tends to play his own radio preferences in the car and likes to expose the children to different things such as diverse films and experiences. Even when the children are not keen to try them. We have very different personalities and behave with the children in distinct ways. I feel that the differences help prepare children for life when they leave home when they will need to adapt to living with other people.

One thing that is very helpful however is in the way we always back each other up with the behaviour we expect from our children.

5 benefits of a united front

  1. The most important benefit is that it makes it easier to maintain order, particularly in the mornings, the evenings and when the children need to do homework where the children would benefit from a routine.
  2. Children will find it much easier to cooperate when they know that both parents agree on the rules. This is especially important when children are under six, as they are easily confused if parents have different rules or one enforces the rules and the other does not.
  3. Children need boundaries and they need to know what the consequences will be when they cross them. Far from being punitive, it helps them feel safe.
  4. When children learn that if tone parent says ‘no’ to something they can’t go to the other and try their luck, it teaches them that life is predictable and secure. It stops children from learning how to manipulate others to get what they want.
  5. Agreeing on the rules in the household has the added benefits of helping the adults feel supported. Adults will feel closer if they are in agreement about the rules and back each other up.  It can be so frustrating to have battled with a child, only to find your other half giving in to their requests.

How to agree on rules

The first thing is to spend time talking about what values and qualities you want to instil in your children. This is a great basis for helping to come to a mutual agreement on the benefits of encouraging certain behaviours. This is a hugely important matter and may need your time for 20 minutes a week to make sure that you are sticking to your value-based parenting

However there will be differences in the way you think, and these differences are much better sorted out in private. It is good for you both to explain what you would like, and then to come to some sort of agreement or compromise on what rules, consequences and rewards you would like to have in your family.

If you really can’t agree you may like to decide based on which parent feels most strongly about a certain issue, which parent will be most affected or redressing the balance if one parent tends to have a much bigger voice in the child-rearing practices, and allow the other parent a say.

However it is really helpful for your child if you both seem united and you both support each other, even if you disagreed on the final decision.

Stick to the rules you decide

Once you have decided your values and worked out the rules it is so important to talk with your child and let them know what you both feel is important. If there are consequences for not sticking to the rules let them know these too. Help them understand that it is a joint decision.

When your child asks for something and you have not had a chance to discuss it, tell them you will get back to them with a decision. That gives you a chance to decide how it fits into your values and whether your child has earned some leeway by showing that they are becoming more responsible. This could be a teenager asking to be allowed out later than usual (judge this on how responsible they were the last time they had a curfew). Or a toddler who wants to stay up late to watch a programme (Judge this on how well he coped last time he was up late)

Don’t make one parent the ‘bad cop’

And the final thing I would say is to make sure that neither of you take on the role of ‘bad cop’.  A united front is so important for your children’s sense of security and safety and for your relationship with your partner. Be strong and stick to the decisions you made together and everyone will know where they stand.

child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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