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Sunday, 25 March 2001

Parents Argue Over How to Discipline Their Young Children

Written by  Marc Garson, MSW, ACSW, ACP

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QDear WholeFamily Counselor,

I am a mother of three children, ages four-months, two- and three-years-old. Their father and I are having difficulty coming to an agreement on discipline for our two- and three year-old-daughters.

I feel that you should remain calm, talk it out and if talking doesn't work then use time-outs, and if all else fails, they receive a spanking (w/o physical pain). Then I tell them "Mommy doesn't like to spank, but if you don't act like a good girl mommy has to help. I love you and need you to behave so we don't have to do this." I normally don't have to go past talking.

Their father, on the other hand, tends to be less willing to talk it out. He takes disciplinary action much more quickly. He is also quick to yell. When he spanks the children, he gives them no explanation afterwards. I am more consistent with discipline. He normally doesn't follow through. The girls do not listen to him.

Our parenting differences cause a lot of arguments between us. Call me pigheaded, but my way is better. I know because it works. The girls listen to me, as well as any two- or three-year-old does. I find myself defending them all the time by saying things like, "They are only two and three, what is your excuse?''

It's not like he has ever caused them physical pain. But I want to instill good communication skills in my children. I learned these skills too late in life and don't want my children to follow. Lord knows I still have a lot of learning to do when it comes to communication. Needless to say, my husband was never taught these skills.

Please, if you have any advice it would be greatly appreciated.

AI want to commend you for sticking to your guns and trying to ensure that your children are raised with the values of consistent rules and open discussion rather than anger and spanking as a first response.

With that said, it also sounds pretty clear that at least as far as family management issues are concerned, you and your husband have to work out some fair, mutual rules.

It is very important that you and your husband put up a united front in front of your children as much as possible. You should both work very hard to not undermine each other's authority and value in the children's eyes. Publicly support one another - disagree in private -- and then work it out before coming back to the kids.

It's okay for them to see disagreement between the two of you, but you must try to make your public discussions civil and mutually respectful. Remember, everything you do in front of them is modeling behavior and/or values to them!

The topic of corporal punishment seems to engender some pretty strong feelings among parents. It has been my experience that parents who quickly resort to striking their children are usually products of this form of disciple themselves.

Most professional educators and counselors would agree with your system of punishment and with the idea of helping children learn to talk about their feelings. Teaching your children how to identify and appropriately express their feelings is an important lesson.

I would also suggest that you and your husband divide up areas of responsibility and agree beforehand which one of you will have the final word in each particular area. You can then explain to your children which one of you will have the final word in each situation. If disagreements occur (as they inevitably will) you can discuss them in private. In front of your children, however, it will be clear who has the final word.

Please keep us posted as to how you are managing.

Marc Garson, MSW, ACSW, ACP

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Marc Garson, MSW, ACSW, ACP

Marc Garson, MSW, ACSW, ACP

Marc Garson has a BA in psychology from the University of Texas in Austin, a MasterSs of Social Work (MSW) from Yeshiva University in New York City, and a Master of Science in Business Management from Boston University. He has been a practicing clinical psychotherapist since 1986. He is a licensed clinical social worker and advanced clinical practitioner in the State of Texas, and a longstanding member of the National Association of Social Workers. His clinical specialties include marriage and family, adolescence, parenting, and family therapies. He also has an extensive background in chemical dependency and codependence treatment. Marc is married and the father of three beautiful little girls: Daniella age 7, Ariella age 6, & Miera age 3. Marc's special interests and hobbies include football, rock and jazz music, boating, weightlifting, chess, philosophy, and business. He loves to travel, and is something of a gourmet chef.

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