Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I discipline our children in very different ways. Oftentimes it leads to us arguing in front of them. What can we do to prevent this?
A: When parents have different disciplining styles, there’s bound to be dissention and arguing. Each person brings to the table what’s been learned along the way.
When you and your wife fight in front of the children, you may not be aware of the ways in which they are affected. Some children may learn “that must be the way people resolve conflicts.” Others may learn how to play one parent against the other, which causes even more confusion and distress in the family.
You and your wife should try to get on the same page. That’s the best way to stop arguing with your kids as witnesses. Here are some strategies that can be helpful:
Agree on a signal to alert both of you that the conversation is, or is about to, get too heated and needs to be halted.
Make a commitment both to honor and act on the signal. You might walk away and have an agreed-upon cooling off period. Or set a time to revisit your differences in opinion. Or write down what you’re feeling and later share it with your partner.
Create your own family “rulebook.” Write clear, reasonable, attainable rules (for both parents and children) about what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t.
Consider taking a few parenting classes together. That way you’ll have a common parenting experience to draw on. Hearing how other people parent (and why) can give a fresh perspective on what you want for your own family.
Seek a professional third party if you can’t find ways to work together in the areas you want to improve. Sometimes an outside perspective helps us understand the underlying reasons for disagreements.
Remember your successes. During your marriage, you and your spouse have undoubtedly successfully negotiated many situations – with each of you both giving and taking a little until you reached some middle ground. You can also be successful at ending arguments in front of the children if you really want to. Your children will be the ultimate winners.
Having said all that, it’s important not to go overboard in trying to avoid arguments. Having small squabbles in front of the children – and then resolving them peacefully – can actually be good for them; it shows that it’s possible to disagree with someone you love, and that relationships don’t end just because people are quarreling with each other.
Armin Brott is a syndicated columnist and author.
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