Child-Rearing Disagreements

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Parent Library

It is not surprising that occasionally parents have different ideas about how to raise their child. Child rearing involves constant decisions-big ones and little ones. Should Robin start preschool? Which preschool is best? What kind of cake is best for a birthday party? The old-fashioned idea that "father knows best" and, therefore, should have the last word has given way to greater equality of parents' roles in raising their children, and with it comes greater likelihood of bickering over the many decisions that must be made.

Effect on Kids

Research indicates that the rearing of their children is one of the main topics that couples argue about. Furthermore, studies of children's reactions to discord in the household support what many parents have long sensed intuitively: arguments in the children's presence can be stressful for them. Recent research on infants and preschoolers also indicates that they are very sensitive to adults' moods and show marked distress in the presence of adults' anger. The degree of distress appears to be related to the intensity of adults' feelings.

Keeping the Battles to a Minimum

Even though arguments and anger seem to be inevitable aspects of contemporary family life, some steps can be taken to minimize their frequency and their potentially distressing effects on very young children. A first step is to exercise as much restraint as you can so that most of the detailed argument can be played out away from the child.

It might also be wise to set aside some time to determine precisely what the arguments are about. Are there specific issues that set off strong feelings in both parents? Developing a list of the kinds of issues that spark disagreements may help to put them in perspective. Inspection of the list may show that one or both of you are particularly sensitive to an issue that is associated with painful memories from your own childhood, and arguments may be fueled by fear that your child may suffer hurts and disappointments the same way you did. In such cases, take a close and realistic look at your child. Instead of looking for evidence that your child is suffering the way you did, look for evidence that she is managing quite well and not feeling the way you did. That should help reduce the intensity of your own reaction so that discussion between the two of you can be conducted more calmly.

Another step is to ask yourself:: "Is my spouse's position on the issue or behavior in the situation really harmful to our child?" Think the question over long enough to consider what you really believe and what evidence you have. In most cases, careful reflection will result in the answer "no." However, if you have given it serious thought and your answer is clearly "Yes, my spouse is harming our child," it seems advisable to discuss the problem with an outside person you trust-your minister, pediatrician, or family counselor, for example.

Total Agreement Isn't Necessary

While bitter and acrimonious confrontations between parents can be alarming to a small child, it is really not necessary to pretend to agree with each other on all matters. Such unchanging consensus would rob a child of much that can be learned from observing how adults accommodate to differences in others' views and feelings. Furthermore, a child should not always be faced with a united front; occasionally divided ranks will encourage and stimulate a child's capacity to negotiate, bargain, and present her own case against the opinions of others.

It Helps To See Resolution

In addition, it is probably useful for young children to observe how adults renegotiate their relationship following a squabble or moments of hostility. These observations can reassure the child that when distance and anger come between her and members of the family, the relationship is not over but can be resumed to be enjoyed again.

Credits: Lilian G. Katz

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