Naughty or Nice: Discipline and Non-Traditional Family
Discipline can be a challenge at the holidays. Even the calmest child can begin bouncing off the walls once the Christmas tree is up, sugary treats abound and Santa is on the horizon. If you are in a blended family, living with relatives, or are in a co-parenting situation, the challenges can be compounded.
“Consistency is key,” said Nicole Kirkland, MSW, Family Court Case coordinator for Family & Children’s Services. She encourages all parents, but especially those who are co-parenting, in blended families or families in which grandparents are providing a large amount of child care, to make their homes as consistent as possible—especially during the holidays. And if the child has special needs, consistency and predictability are even more important.
She also encourages parents to remember the purpose of discipline. “We want to teach our children, not scare, shame or hurt them.”
The Importance of Communication
Lissa South, who co-parents her three-year-old daughter Sophie with Sophie’s father Brad, feels that communication has been an essential ingredient in maintaining consistency between their two homes.
“We try to discipline in similar ways,” Lissa said. “We neither one spank, we both use time out, give her choices, and talk to her—explaining why what she did was not appropriate and asking her what she could do differently.” Lissa credits the Family & Children’s Services class “Helping Children Cope with Divorce” as being a significant factor in the consistency she and Brad have achieved. Both Brad and Lissa were required to take the class as part of their custody proceedings. (Tulsa County requires all parents with minor children going through a dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or determination of paternity to take this class.)
Grandparents and Discipline
A bigger challenge for Lissa is trying to maintain consistency with Sophie’s grandparents. “My parents cater to Sophie,” Lissa said. “To them she is just their little star! It’s really hard for them to discipline her.” Lissa wishes her parents would maintain the same boundaries with Sophie that she does.
“Consistency helps everyone in the long run,” Kirkland said. “Without a united front you are just setting yourselves up for misbehavior. Children are sharp—they will play one parent [or grandparent] off the other.”
However, Kirkland added that the rules can be a little different with grandparents who aren’t regular caretakers. “If they are helping raise the grandchildren, then you really need to get on the same page, asking yourselves, ‘How are we going to do this as a family?’ But if that’s not their role, then I don’t think we should expect them to be [disciplinarians]. Making them the disciplinarian does change the relationship, and we don’t want to mess up the bond they have with their grandchild.”
Kirkland said, however, that in extreme cases where the behavior of grandparents is significantly affecting the child, the grandparents may need to have clear boundaries as well. “You hate to punish the child by keeping him or her away from the grandparents, but it is your duty to protect your child. It’s not about disrespecting the grandparents, but about not allowing them to disrespect you as the parent.”
Checking in With Yourself
For parents who are struggling to maintain consistency in discipline with the other adults in a child’s life, Kirkland encourages setting a time when all adults involved can discuss the issues. But, before approaching the co-parent, stepparent or grandparent, Kirkland says to first “check in with yourself” by asking, “Is this really about the child or is it about me?”
“If it’s about you, find someone you can talk to about the real issue that is bothering you—a confidant, counselor. You might not be able to resolve the issue with your ex-husband or parent,” she said, “but you can resolve it within yourself.”
Staying on Point
Once you have determined that there is a genuine problem that is serious enough to discuss with the other adult or adults in your child’s life, keep blame from creeping into the discussion by using “I messages” and maintaining a friendly, but “business-like,” demeanor. She also recommends limiting the discussion to issues related to the child. This is not the time to bring up personal issues or past hurts, which could make the other party feel attacked. “Do not disrespect grandparents, co-parents or stepparents,” Kirkland said, “but say, ‘This is how I am disciplining. I need your support with this.’”
In dealing with non-traditional parenting it’s important to be patient and keep an open mind. “The other adults in your child’s life may be used to disciplining in completely different ways,” Kirkland said. “You can use this opportunity to teach them why your system of discipline is effective—and not rule out that they can teach you as well!”
Family & Children’s Services offers classes, seminars, and workshops on numerous parenting topics such as helping children cope with divorce, discipline between two homes, new baby care, marriage and relationships and more. The classes are affordable and available to individuals, families, and organizations in the Northeast Oklahoma area. Fees vary. No one is turned away from a program because of inability to pay; scholarships are available to those who qualify. New classes resume Jan. 3, 2011.
For more information or to pre-register, please call 918.560.1114 or visit www.fcsok.org. Parents may begin at anytime during the series.
• Discipline is teaching your child by modeling, instruction and practice to produce the desired result—good behavior.
• The purpose of discipline is to teach children to make appropriate choices and decisions on their own.
• It is the parent’s responsibility to communicate expectations and household rules to a child.
• Offer alternatives from which to choose. For example, “Do you want an apple or a banana?” or “Do you want to wear the red shirt or the green shirt?”
• Use age appropriate forms of discipline. A young child might respond to “time-outs.” An older child might react to removal of privileges or logical consequences—experiencing the result of his or her actions.
• Help your child understand what your expectations are and which behavior resulted in a consequence.
• Reinforce the kinds of behavior you want with praise and hugs.
• Remember to notice good behavior more often than you notice bad behavior.
Tips for Successful Co-parenting
• Change the language of divorce—don’t use words that blame, accuse or demand.
• The term co-parent is similar to co-chair—it means you have equal accountability although you may have different areas of responsibility.
• Remember your common purpose—you are dedicated to a common goal, the best interest of your children.
• Removing emotions from communication does not mean denying them. Find another time and place to express your feelings.
• Communicate with facts, not feelings.
• Negotiate differences when you disagree or when new circumstances arise.
• Limit the co-parent relationship to specific topics and goals.
• Observe common courtesy.
• Allow your child to love both families.