A fundamental skill for powerful parenting is your ability to set clear, direct, and specific limits. Limits should be easy for your child to follow. According to the parents I work with in consultation, it isn’t always easy to know what the non-negotiable limits for behavior should be.
It helps to know your predominant communication style and that of your parenting partner(s). While most parents agree that parenting together is important, many say that blending two parenting styles makes setting limits even harder.
In Proactive Parenting, there are three parenting styles:
The Reactive Style
If you have the reactive communication style you may feel that you are spending most of your parenting time in conflict with your child. Although you may have clear limits, you tend to react to your child’s misbehavior in angry or frustrated ways. Emotions may run high in your family with no one quite sure how to stop the constant conflict. Peaceful times seem few and far between. Often, behavioral skill-building doesn’t take place, but testing of boundaries and limits does.
This style of communicating encourages your family members to either avoid or provoke your reactions, and this style teaches your child how to negotiate limits.
The Wavering Style
If you have the wavering communication style, you may have limits, but be inconsistent about following through on them. Do you do a lot of talking, and not a lot of acting, when it comes to discipline? My guess is that your child may be pushing the limits because of your inconsistency. She may even be taking advantage of your inability to anticipate behavioral trouble spots.
If you waver in your limit setting and follow through, your child learns that sometimes you mean what you say but often you don’t. This style of parenting encourages testing of limits because your child must keep engaging in order to learn just what you expect of her.
The Proactive Style
If you have the proactive communication style, you have firm, unmistakable personal boundaries that are clearly conveyed to your family members. This style of parenting fosters age-appropriate, independent decision-making by your child.
When misbehavior occurs, words are followed by appropriate action. Your parenting is like having a backyard surrounded by a sturdy fence. Your child can choose to run or swing or slide, but the boundaries of his yard are clear. You are teaching your child the skills he needs to become capable, responsible, and motivated to behave well from within. His ability to accept limits and act in acceptable ways will help him handle life’s ups and downs.
The styles you and your partner have will either facilitate working together or not. Are you both reactive? Is one person reactive while the other parent wavers? Here are some strategies for blending styles that will make it easier for you to be proactive as you parent together:
• Identify your styles. Talk about this when neither of you is upset about a parenting dilemma.
• Think about what steps you can take to adopt a more proactive style.
• Make the time to discuss what each of you will do to blend the best of your styles. Your goal is to present to your child more unity around limit-setting.
• Review what your limits really are. It will be impossible to convey them to your child if you’re unclear about what rules are non-negotiable.
• Decide, in advance and away from your child, how you will handle discipline issues that you don’t agree on. Don’t let your child know that he has the power to start arguments between you.
• Offer support. Create a signal between you and your partner that conveys you need help when you are in conflict with your child.
• Take a break. If one parent is in conflict with the child and the other disagrees with what is happening, take time out to discuss the plan. Tell your child you will get back to her when the two of you have decided how to handle the problem.
Respecting each other as you present a united front is the key to parenting together. Especially when times are tough, remember that the respect you show each other is the respect your child is
learning to have for you.
Lynne Reeves Griffin RN, MEd is the author of the parenting guides, Let’s Talk It: Adolescent Mental Health and Negotiation Generation. She is also the author of the family-focused novels, Girl Sent Away, Sea Escape, and Life Without Summer. You can find her online at her website, or follow her on Twitter @Lynne_Griffin.