Co-parenting: Should you present a united front or play good cop-bad cop?

We all know there are many styles of parenting. But should you and your husband follow the same parenting style or use your own tactics? Experts answer that question for SheKnows.

According to Dr. Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., NCC, LMHC, psychologist and author, in her years of experience, presenting a united front works best because kids are very good at the “divide and conquer” technique.

United front

Sarkis said, “Showing a united front with your spouse or partner limits the chances of, ‘But Mom said I could…’ or, ‘Dad said it was OK.’ Kids crave stability, and a united front provides that for them. It will not only make for happier and more well-adjusted kids, it will also be better for your relationship.”

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Dr. John Duffy, clinical psychologist specializing in teen, tween and parenting issues and author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens, echoed Sarkis’ advice.

Duffy said,  “I find that a united front is critical when disciplining children. Parents are on the same page, so the message children receive tends to be clear and unwavering.”

He also suggested parents rethink their disciplining style to focus on the positive. He said, “I prefer situations in which little time is spent on discipline and more time is spent on developing a positive, supportive relationship between parent and child. I, therefore, encourage families to draft a brief contract listing potential ‘transgressions’ and related consequences. This requires very little direct discipline on the part of parents, who can instead simply refer to the already agreed-upon contract.”

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Change of heart

Mom of two Tanja Pajevic says she used to believe in the good cop/bad cop way of parenting, but has since had a change of heart. She said, “I’ve learned how much more important it is to just be present and there for your kids. I suspect this is why good cops flout house rules.”

Tanja said she recognized a pattern of behavior in her young son — he was acting out when he wanted her attention and behaved even worse after punishment.

She said, “When I slowed down and really connected with [my son] asking him what he was feeling or what he wanted to do, things got much better. Turns out he just wanted to play with me for a few minutes by himself before my nanny arrived.”

She added, “If you’re ever in doubt, just sit down and play with your kid for 10-15 uninterrupted minutes. This is the magic reset button. I’ve learned that it’s much more beneficial to give your child positive feedback when they’re doing something right, rather than being negative (or criticizing or punishing them) when they’ve messed up.”

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More on discipline

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