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Dear Dr. Batya,
I have a very difficult situation on my hands. I have a couple of toddlers at home and a wonderfully calm and laidback husband. He is so laidback that whenever there is a discipline issue he always wants to take the line of least resistance, the easy way out. I am much stricter than him, and have a much shorter fuse. If I have disciplined a child and this causes an outburst of tears, he will always say "why don't you just let him/give it back/allow it/etc?" We have a clear case of parents disagreeing in front of the child. Although he now does this discreetly and not in front of them, they still sense his reluctance and use it to get what they want.
In other situations, my husband will have dealt with a problem too lightly, in my opinion. In these cases, I often object and then swoop down like an angry bulldozer to "mend the damage." I know this is terribly stupid, I regret it the second it's done, but by then it's too late.
We are thankfully able to talk and communicate very well. I need to know how to make it work for child raising before too much damage is done.
It's wonderful that your husband is calm and laidback. Both you and the children can benefit from his great outlook. Having said that, it sounds like your difficulty with him is his failure to discipline and set limits. "Giving in" is sometimes right but not always. If your child wanted to eat 400 jelly beans just before dinner would you let him? Hopefully not. You might "give in" and give him a few or preferably you might suggest that after he eats his dinner, he can pick out 10 of his favorites for dessert as a reward.
Initially your child might rebel and even have a full-fledged tantrum when he doesn't get what he wants. As parents, you know your children's needs best. It may not always be what your child desires and that is when a potential conflict arises. That said, if you can be consistent in how you handle a situation, your children will learn the rules. They may even learn them so well that they will use them against you! Here are some of Dr. Batya's rules of parenting:
* Pick your issues. Not everything can be seen as serious. Lighten up and give in on the unimportant issues, but for serious issues, stand your ground.
* Be aware that any behavior - whether good or bad - will increase if you pay attention to it. Therefore attend to only those behaviors which you want to recur. Praising good behavior, like sharing with a sibling, will likely lead to more sharing. For negative behavior, like having a temper tantrum over the jelly beans, the more attention paid to the tantrum, the more temper tantrums there will be, as now your child has an audience. Best to state what the desired behavior is and move on, ignoring the tantrum.
* Remember that it is not your child but his behavior you are unhappy with. Attacking a child only attacks and thus lowers his self-esteem.
* Children learn very quickly which parent will give in on any particular issue. Be consistent as parents and ask your child, "What did Abba say?" or "Let's check with Eema together" if you think that a child is playing one parent off against the other.
* Parents won't agree on everything but they should present a united front and not sabotage one another.
* With respect to discipline (which is really the teaching of appropriate behavior), if you are forced to use punishment, it should fit the crime in terms of degree of both seriousness and relevance. Punishment does not have to be immediate. It may be best to let your child know what they did wrong and why, and let them know that there will be a consequence. Make the consequence relevant. More punishment is not necessarily better. A weekend of grounding will be far more effective than a month's worth. A month will be punitive to your child but far more punitive to you. After a while he will forget just why he was even punished. Sometimes, only your disappointment in him is all the punishment he needs.
* Always keep in mind your end objective. If you do, it is easier to help your children learn what is expected of them without getting caught up in the irrelevant details.
* Catch your child "doing good." Tell your child how great he is for doing these small things. If you can't find at least 5 good things a day, then your expectations are far too high. Let him also tell you some of the nice things he does when you're not around. It is great for his self esteem.
* Treat all family members with respect. We all lose it from time to time. If you do, walk away, calm down and apologize for losing control. They need to see that you are also human.
* Tell your children that you love them. Never assume that they just know.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in Ra'anana. This column offers general psychological advice and is not intended to replace treatment by a mental health professional.