Is Your Partner A Spanker? Knowing When You Should Discuss Discipline Strategies – It’s Sooner Than You Think
Saying there’s a lot to think about when you have children is a monumental understatement.
From babyproofing to college funds, there’s an endless list of considerations, concessions, compromises, and decisions that you and your partner will need to work through as you raise your family. And although most couples will try to plan ahead for many things, one thing that’s often overlooked until the last minute is how you will discipline your child(ren).
It’s not sexy and it might drag the fun out of the ‘creating children’ process but neglecting to have a conversation early on regarding discipline strategies is a mistake.
And it’s an easy mistake to make. After all, a newborn isn’t scribbling on the walls and a 6-year-old isn’t taking the car out for a joyride. Trying to determine how you’ll deal with certain behaviors often doesn’t occur to parents until the moment it’s needed.
Unfortunately, decisions on the fly when it comes to discipline can be ineffective and lead to potential disregard.
Is Discipline Even Used Anymore?
Let’s first clarify that discipline and punishment aren’t the same thing. Discipline may incorporate consequences that feel like punishments, but that shouldn’t be the sole strategy for changing behaviors.
Most of us know that goal of discipline is to create and teach the right types of behavior. By creating consequences for poor behavior, you are reinforcing the child’s ability to choose the good behavior options and avoid the bad ones.
But discipline actually does much more than that.
Effective discipline will help children learn from mistakes and provide them the tools for making the right choices as they grow.
This may mean using things like,
- Positive reinforcements
- Goal setting techniques
- Rewards for achievements
These techniques use positive consequences rather than negative to encourage the right behavior choices and are much more effective than negative consequences.
Negative consequences as a result of bad choices and inappropriate behavior are still an important part of effective discipline, however.
Discipline also creates boundaries for children and those boundaries create safety in a child’s mind. Although they’re not capable of articulating it, children instinctively know that some things are okay, others are not, and that danger exists.
Without an adult to guide them and reinforce those boundaries, children are left to make decisions they’re not ready for. This then initiates feelings of anxiety, distrust, and insecurity – none of which are healthy for children (or adults).
A child who grows up without discipline often misunderstands social cues, has trouble managing their own emotions, and has difficulties creating strong and unhealthy relationships.
Oops! What Happens When You Skip The Discipline Conversation
Ok, you get it, right? Discipline is important.
But why does it have to be planned out and discussed way ahead of time? Can’t we just enjoy and see how things go?
You can, but it’s not a good idea.
Having an agreed upon strategy for disciplining your child(ren) helps to ensure and avoid a few very important things.
- Unified front and consistent messaging from both parents.
- Feelings of safety on the part of the child.
- Calm approach to behaviors both good and bad.
- Plan for next steps if something isn’t working.
- You and your partner stay a team.
- Punishments made in frustration or anger.
- Confusion on the part of both child and parents.
- Issuing rash and ineffective consequences.
- Upsetting feelings for your child like, “Mommy hates me,” or “Daddy thinks I’m bad.”
- Fighting with your partner over what to do or what was done.
If you skip the conversation about discipline strategies it can be like spitting into the wind. If you’re good, maybe it will work, but if you’re off then you have a mess on your hands (or face).
You’re also missing a very big opportunity to pump up your parenting in the most positive way. Your goal is happy, healthy, well-adjusted kids. Planning ahead for how you will discipline is one very important piece in completing that puzzle.
Uh-oh! We Don’t Agree On Discipline Strategies
Each parent will have their own ideas of what should work and what won’t when it comes to discipline. Disagreements around proper discipline strategies are very common and too often come at the expense of the child.
For instance, if one of you thinks spanking is okay and the other doesn’t, isn’t that a conversation best had before the moment comes when a decision has to be made?
And if there’s going to be a disagreement about how to handle something related to your child, having that discussion in front of your child can make that child feel responsible for your feelings. Children shouldn’t bear that weight.
A discussion early on can help you and your partner find common ground. If you don’t see eye-to-eye try starting by each answering these questions as they pertain to discipline:
- What do you want your child to learn?
- How do you want them to feel?
- What would you like them to think?
You can’t be afraid of your child being upset with you, thinking you’re unfair, or calling you mean. But you should be careful about instilling feelings of fear or creating a circumstance where they start hiding behavior because your responses are unpredictable.
This is also not a one-time conversation. You will need to revisit discipline strategies with each developmental stage. What works at 6 does not typically work at 16.
Conflicting discipline strategies can be very divisive. As children age the conversations around discipline become increasingly important for the health of your relationship.
Consistency in these conversations will help reduce conflict. Just because you agreed on time-outs for your toddler doesn’t mean you’ll agree about canceling the prom for your teenager.
The closer to adulthood a child gets the higher the stakes when you need to redirect or adjust their behavior. If you have to manage discord in your relationship with your partner at the same time everyone loses.
So, add a talk about discipline to your list of child related topics early on. It won’t ensure you avoid all the possible pitfalls, but it can help clear away at least a fair number of them.
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Author: Dr. Kurt Smith
Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching, a Northern California counseling practice that specializes in helping men and the women who love them. His expertise is in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their relationships better.