Dear Dr. Debbie,
I have three little ones and my biggest stressor right now is disagreeing with my husband on how to discipline them. I think he chooses too many battles and is too hard on them for their ages. At the same time he thinks I’m too soft and they walk all over me.
Last night the one-year-old pulled the three-year-old’s hair and Daddy swooped her up and put her straight to bed (it was close to bedtime) with no bedtime routine or story because, “she has to learn that behavior is not OK”. Naturally I went in to calm her down and read her a story. The next time she pulls someone’s hair I know he’ll say that it’s because I don’t discipline them.
Not A Team
Wow. Sounds like Daddy needs a Time Out. The bigger issue is how to get two parents to support rather than counteract each other when it comes discipline. Discipline, by the way, can mean following a leader, and it can also mean keeping things under control.
We all have our limits when it comes to frustrations, disappointments, and generally not having our needs met. When one family member is out of sorts it affects the others. In this scenario, Daddy was reacting to one child yelling over having hair pulled, possibly due to some frustration the one-year-old was experiencing, and admittedly at the children’s bedtime. Depending on what other stressors Daddy had to deal with leading up to that moment, this may have pushed him over the edge. Your comment about an ongoing contrast between his discipline style and yours makes me think of two captains trying to sail a boat both east and west at the same time. Any time one of you addresses a child’s behavior the other cringes, anxiously ready to take over the wheel to correct the course. Obviously this makes a rough ride for the passengers.
If the two captains can steady the tiller this will relieve one of the sources of your family’s stress. See my past column about the effect of parents’ stress on the children. Address your stress by coming together with routines and rules.
A busy household with three little ones functions best on predictable patterns of a daily schedule. Careful timing – not too late or they’re overtired, not too early or there will be protests – gets the bedtime routine off to a good start. Do Mommy and Daddy split bedtime duties? Are there tasks or children assigned to each of you? A lovingly executed package of tub time, teeth brushing, pajamas, book reading, backrubs, “I love you’s,” and lullabies reassure young children that all is well in their world. For your older two, throw in a brief recap of today’s best moment along with something to look forward to for tomorrow. A smooth and enjoyable bedtime routine fosters pleasant dreams and happy children.
Rules of the House
Do babies pull hair on other people’s heads? Of course they do, as well as earrings, glasses, and anything else they can get their little fists around. It makes much more sense for the people who aren’t the baby to remember to keep loose hair and other grab-able temptations away from her grasp. If it happens anyway (and it surely will) give comforting attention to the victim and help him or her to follow the house rule of keeping hair safely out of harm’s way.
You and Daddy should come up with a list of no more than a dozen House Rules that are necessary, specific, enforceable, and positive. Do’s are easier to learn than Don’ts. The list includes actions that consider the needs and feelings of another family member, such as asking permission to use something that belongs to someone else. Include actions that are careful of time or money, such as turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth. Include actions that protect health or safety, such as picking toys up off the floor at the end of playtime and tucking your hair out of the way before you pick up the baby.
As the co-captains of this ship, you and Daddy will do your level best to be considerate of other family members, to safeguard the family’s budget and time, and to take actions to assure everyone’s health and safety. In other words, you are the models of good discipline (and teamwork). To instill discipline in the children, remind them of a rule just before they need to follow it.
Parenting runs a steadier course when parents work together.
Dr. Wood will facilitate a workshop for parents and childcare professionals on “Stress with Children” on Saturday, August 7, 9:30 am to 12:30 pm at Chesapeake Children’s Museum.
The museum is hosting a Sizzling Family Summer Concert featuring Frolic the Fox and Guava Jelly on Saturday, July 24 from 9 am to 2 pm.
Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.