After a divorce, child discipline can become an ongoing source of tension. Disagreements range from small differences, such as the consequences for failing to complete chores, to major differences in rules regarding homework, dating, and internet usage. In an ideal world, parents would agree on disciplinary structures. Unfortunately, many divorced parents struggle with differing views on child discipline and struggle to find compromises.
Challenges to Child Discipline
For some divorced parents, disciplinary matters are complicated by the terms of the divorce, which may affect:
- The emotional impact of a divorce on a child. After a divorce, many parents may change their house rules to accommodate a child’s emotional state. This outlook can come from a place of understanding in which a parent wants to let a child process the divorce without additional stress. It can also come from a place of manipulation, in which one parent tries to earn a child’s favor by embracing leniency.
- Logistics. Two parents with equal child custody rights may not always have equal amounts of time with a child. When a child spends more time with one parent or the other, trying to create and enforce disciplinary boundaries becomes more difficult.
- Children’s needs. Discipline changes as a child grows older. After a divorce, parents typically grow further and further apart and may not continue to work together to create a consistent set of boundaries.
- Children using information as leverage. When parents fail to agree on rules, children quickly pick up on any strong feelings one parent may harbor against the other. They can use that information to play parents against each other using arguments such as, “Dad lets me do this, so why can’t I here?”
Over time, disciplinary problems at home can transfer to other environments, including school and social situations. A lack of boundaries can result in an increased risk of poor school performance and an increased risk of engaging in risky behaviors. These obstacles to child discipline can make post-divorce life difficult, but creating a strong plan for handling discipline early on can help.
Tips for Handling Child Discipline
When it comes to discipline, divorced parents need an agreed-upon plan of action. Ex-spouses do not need to agree about everything, but they should have an understanding of the other’s rules and respect parental boundaries. Use these tips for successfully handling child discipline:
- Find common ground regarding outcomes. Parents often have differing views about disciplinary methodologies, but many can agree on the primary goals. Every disciplinary action should focus on a child’s wellbeing and fair limitations. Try to find areas you do agree about to inform the disciplinary process.
- Share information about house rules. Parents often disagree about homework, chores, and technology usage, and that’s okay. However, each parent should have an understanding of the house rules where a child will spend time. Understanding and showing respect for house rules ensures that parents reinforce each other, even if they aren’t together. Discuss any concerns about house rules as needed.
- Avoid changing the rules. For parents who are together or apart, consistency matters. Another parent’s house rules should not make you bend or change your rules. Keep the rules and consequences clear, and act on them consistently.
- Don’t expect to enforce rules outside your home. If the other parent is unwilling to enforce a consequence, enact a short-term penalty or wait until the child is back under your roof. Some parents may agree to enforce another parent’s consequences outside of the home. Choose a solution that you and your ex-spouse can consistently follow.
Discipline in any situation is a challenging area of parenting. When ex-spouses create a foundation of respect, compromise, and individual autonomy, they can overcome the most common disciplinary challenges associated with post-divorce life.