Communication, Consistency Needed for Disciplining Children of Divorce

  • Disciplining a child of divorce while balancing custody can be a challenge.
  • Consistency between households requires communication.
  • Co-parents should be invested in their child's future, not their negative feelings regarding the other.

"As a parent, your child is your top priority, and regardless of any divorce, it is in their best interest to have consistency established between households."

When co-parenting with an ex-spouse, staying on the same page can be tricky. With so much of a child’s life spent on the move in between households, keeping track of what is allowed in one household versus another can be a lot to ask for a young child, and staying communicative between ex-spouses who have went through a divorce and have fought a messy custody dispute isn’t always possible either.

With a lack of flow of information, disciplining a child and having it be consistent between the two households can be next-to impossible.

Figuring it out

For single parents, it requires decoding your child’s emotions to figure out the given situation. According to Parents Magazine, it is important to talk to your child and figure out what is bothering them that would result in behavior worth disciplining. A child’s behavior can be caused by a wide spectrum of events, but after a parental divorce, reading the reasoning for a temper tantrum in a Target or a refusal to do their math homework becomes even more complicated.

All of these complications require keeping a close eye on the child involved. Therapist Cheryl Erwin once said in her book “Positive Discipline for Single Parents,” that good parenting has less to do with the number of parents at home than with the quality of the parenting. Monitoring a child’s behavior more closely after a divorce gives them firm guidance and the comfort of knowing that a parent will always be present in their lives.

Consistency issues

Making sure consistent parenting occurs from an ex-spouse is the tricky, but often necessary, key in disciplining a child. They need to know that unacceptable behaviors are not okay, no matter which parent is disciplining the child or which household they are at. It can turn into a classic game of good-cop, bad-cop at times, but that type of parenting can have damaging effects on a child, according to the Social Science and Medicine journal.

The results of the study, published in New York Magazine, highlighted how damaging coexistent polar extremes in parenting. The children involved in the study experiences declines in adolescent self-reported health and an increase in adolescent body mass index (BMI), due to the harshness of one parent and the relaxed attitude of the other.

In order to ensure consistent parenting for a child of divorce, communication is key among co-parents. As much as it may be self-satisfying to cling to the emotions of an ex-spouse, it is not in the best interest of the child, who needs their parents now more than ever.

As a parent, your child is your top priority, and regardless of any divorce, it is in their best interest to have consistency established between households.

Need for communication

There may be instances where a child could use the divorce and difference in parenting styles for their own benefit. In instances of a harsh divorce and custody dispute that the child was privy to, they can find themselves using one parent’s home structure against another.

Christina McGhee, divorce coach and author of “Parenting Apart, How Separated and Divorced Parents Can Raise Happy and Secure Kids,” recommends to stop and consider if your reaction, as a parent, would be the same if the comparison was between your household and a grandparent’s household or your household and a friend’s household.

Same team

The history of a relationship and all of the water under the bridge can cloud decision-making, and it’s important for you, not your emotions, to parent your child. Children are smart and can pick up on the tension that can guide decision-making. Assuming that the other parent is not following your parenting decisions also is negating the intelligence of a child.

A child can easily tell their parent that mom or dad did let them watch television when they were supposed to be grounded from it for a week, when the reality could very well be another story entirely. The opposite parent could very well not know about the ban, if the child doesn’t tell them, especially if there is more than one child involved. They will divide and conquer.

Getting on the same page will allow for a better understanding of what happens in each household. Many divorced parents do not necessarily know the right way of implementing this model. Dr. Dave Walsh, of Mind Positive Parenting, says that it can be beneficial to set up a meeting between the co-parents to discuss expectations, approaches to consequences, ways to work through disagreements when they arise, and approaches to limits.

Even though you are no longer on the same team as a married couple, being co-parents means being on your child’s team, which requires communication and discipline as an effective strategy to be the best parent that you can be.

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