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Different Discipline Styles

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: I am the mother of three children, a nine-year-old boy, and two girls (five and seven). I am divorced from their father. They only see him about twice a year. We live with my now significant other. He is a wonderful person, but I feel he can be harsh more often than positive. He is really the only male figure my son has ever known. How do I show my partner I'm not "coddling" the kids in being positive, and at the same time, get over feeling overly empathetic for the kids when he is disciplinary? I only seem to be firm when I get really upset. I know consistency is key. Bob is consistent and they listen very well to him. I do worry a little about their self-esteem, though. Any advice?

A: Even though you believe, at some level, that Bob "gets results" with his manner of discipline, my guess is that you also think he might be inducing some fear, shame, and guilt in your kids along with a heavy dose of threats and punishment. There's a big difference between disciplining kids using natural and logical consequences and punishing them. For a fine description and comparison of both these forms of discipline , please read The Parent's Handbook, by Dinkmeyer and McKay.

You and Bob need to be on the same page when it comes to the values shared with your kids and the manner in which they are parented. Just because you believe in a different form and approach when it comes to discipline, that does not mean you are undermining his approach or that your approach is faulty. These are your kids and you need to be their advocate. That does not mean surrendering your role as disciplinarian to Bob. Getting kids "to mind" and punishing them when they don't is not productive discipline or loving parenting.

I'd like you both to read and discuss the following two books, as they regard parenting and discipline: Loving Your Child Is Not Enough: Positive Discipline That Works, by Nancy Samalin and Why Parents Disagree, by Ron Taffel. If Bob will not even entertain another approach to discipline other than his own rather harsh methods, you need to both see a family therapist about this matter. If he won't see a therapist with you, see one alone to discuss this matter and your partnership and parenting relationship with Bob. Your kids deserve the most loving, supportive form of discipline possible and I am asking you to be courageous enough to give it to them.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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