Boundaries, schedules important for kids
Last week I spoke to some of the intricacies of co-parenting after a divorce. Now that those issues have been addressed, I feel I can go on to cover the major aspects of discipline in a co-parenting relationship.
There are a couple vital points to keep in mind when it comes to kids. The first is that kids like boundaries. The second is that kids like schedules. Now, no child would ever say either of these things, but boundaries and schedules make life much simpler for children (and adults) and pave the way for easier disciplining moments. Children who have the rules and guidelines of a household clearly spelled out for them are more easily going to understand why they are being disciplined when it happens, and it helps them to connect the misdemeanor with the punishment. When this happens, they are less likely to repeat the offense.
The important aspects of schedules are sleep and transitions. Some children don't transition easily, especially when it comes to going from mom's house to dad's house or vice versa. Having and keeping a regular schedule and then in turn informing the child of the impending swap are going to ease the situation. When it comes to sleep, children are less moody, fussy, and more cooperative when they go to bed at a regular time every night and get up at the same time each morning. I know some adults who could benefit from this type of schedule, too! A sleep deprived child is more likely to get into trouble and not respond well to discipline. Do everyone in the family a favor and stick to a routine bedtime. Make it a ritual - read a book, get a glass of water, say a prayer, give a goodnight hug or kiss. The child knows what to expect each night. It might be a struggle at first to implement the bedtime if this has not been the norm, but give it some time. Most kids adapt to schedules very well.
The thing that needs to occur when you're in a co-parenting situation is that both parents agree on this bedtime, agree on punishments, and agree on schedules. This is very, very important. If you and your ex-spouse can agree on nothing else, make sure you agree on this. It will make it so much easier on your children. And it's important to communicate: if Joey is still grounded from the Play Station when he makes his visit to Dad's, make sure Dad knows that. Otherwise, if Dad lets him play, then Dad looks like the Hero and Mom looks like the Bag Guy. There must be consistency. If you can't speak with your ex-spouse without yelling or getting angry, just pass notes between one another and call it a day.
In my first article on this subject, I emphasized the importance of consistency and follow-through. If you're going to threaten, follow through with it. This is especially important in dual-household situations. Kids learn very quickly where Mom and Dad's buttons are and how much they can get away with, and each time they'll try just a little harder and push just a little further. Know where your boundaries are. Stick with them. This doesn't mean you have to be the Play Station Nazi. It just means you need to be firm.
Many parents in co-parenting situations feel guilty that their children have to grow up with divorced parents and try to compensate by letting their children get away with behavior that is unacceptable. You are not doing your child any favors by letting the bad behavior go unnoticed. It's actually going to harm the child in the long run. Try to talk with some other parents who have been through what you're going through, or talk to a counselor. Work through your guilt, work through your feelings and issues. This will benefit not only you but your children as well.
You can discipline your children well. They'll thank you for it when they're grown.