Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting: A United Front

Noel Janis Norton

The way we want our children to behave and develop reflects our values. But, according to Noël Janis-Norton, if there are two parents in the home it is important to present a united front.

As parents we want to pass our values on to our children. Most of us will agree that children should do what they are told, be honest, do their best at school, be kind and helpful, etc.

However, some have very different opinions about how to guide their children to become more cooperative, more honest, more motivated.

Parents need to create the rules, rewards and consequences together, and follow through on them consistently.

When you agree about how your children need to behave, and also agree on how to achieve that, you are presenting a united front.

But when children receive different messages from each parent it could lead to misbehaviour and often children playing one parent off against the other. Mixed messages can make a child anxious or angry.

A consistent united front helps children learn and adapt more easily and quickly. It enables them to relax – secure in the knowledge of what they need to do to receive approval and to stay out of trouble.

How can parents establish and maintain a united front?

  • Try to spend 15 minutes every day discussing possible solutions to issues that arise.
  • Stay solution-focused rather than problem-focused.
  • Start each solution talk by briefly describing the problem you want to resolve.

Here’s an example:

On school days, the children won’t get out of bed until the last moment so mornings are a big rush, and I end up getting stressed and shouting.

  • Each parent takes a turn to suggest a solution. The other is not allowed to say anything negative about that solution.
  • If you don’t like your partner’s suggestion, you need to make a counter-proposal. This way the discussion stays positive.
  • Keep taking turns to think of possible solutions until the 15 minutes are up or until you come up with a solution that you are both willing to put into practice.

Almost always, when the issue is lack of cooperation, either a rule is missing or an existing rule is not being enforced consistently.

Use the 15 minutes to decide on a new rule, or to plan together how you will both follow through on the existing rule. Make sure you don’t use this time to complain about your child or your partner – complaining about your child is a waste of time. Complaining about your partner may result in them trying to avoid getting involved.

What if we don’t agree about what rules we should have?

There are two main reasons why it may be difficult to reach an agreement:

  • You have different values. If this is the case, together you will need to reach a compromise.
  • You both agree in theory on what behaviour you want, but one of you is worried that it would be too difficult to achieve.

What if we have different values?

Scenario. My husband thinks it’s OK for our children to climb a tall tree in the garden, and believes that if something goes wrong, he will be able to deal with it. I think that letting the children climb this tree is too dangerous.

Solution: Because your values are different, you will both have to compromise. One possible compromise might be to allow the children to climb the tree when your partner is in charge, but not when you are in charge. Of course, you would need to explain this new rule to the children.

Or you could decide together that a child can only climb the tree when he has reached a certain age. Any compromise is OK, as long as you are both willing to stick to it.

What if our values are the same, but one of us can’t get the kids to follow the rule?

Scenario: My children have two hours of screen time every weekday, and even more at the weekends. We both think this is too much.

I want us to present a united front to reduce the amount of screen time, but my partner believes that it would cause a lot of upset.

Solution: Make sure you are already implementing the core Calmer, Easier, Happier strategies (particularly Descriptive Praise which I believe is the key to ensuring better cooperation from children). Once you can demonstrate the results of these strategies in action your partner will soon see that you are able to get your children to cooperate much more easily. When you both realise that you can ask more from your kids, your partner will be much more open to tackling problems.

How do I create a united front with friends and extended family?

Scenario: I’m teaching my children to be self-reliant but, when they go to my mother, she does everything for them and doesn’t expect them to help.

Solution: Dealing with other family members is similar to dealing with your partner or child. If you remember to Descriptively Praise your mother frequently for what you like about her relationship with your children, she will feel appreciated. This will help her become more willing to listen to you when you talk to her about things you want her to do differently.

If she doesn’t agree to change, you will need to explain to your children that the rules at your mother’s house are different from the rules at home. This is an important lesson for children to learn: different behaviours are appropriate in different places.

Presenting a united front is not always easy to achieve, but it is well worth the effort. With it firmly in place, your children will receive the same clear messages from both parents, which will enable them to understand and absorb your values more quickly and easily.

Noël Janis-Norton is a learning and behaviour specialist with over 45 years’ experience in Britain and the United States as a head teacher, special needs advisor, consultant, lecturer, parenting coach, speaker and author. She is the founder of Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting, resources that can help you and your family, from books and CDs to parenting courses, workshops, fortnightly talks and private consultations (at the Centre or by telephone).

Her new book, Calmer, Easier, Happier Boys is out now. Read more of her Calmer Easier Happier series for Mr Fox.