Written by Doctor G

My husband and kids undermine my parenting!

When my 4 year old daughter (Sophie) doesn’t listen, you say no & she continues to do it. When I punish her sometimes her big brothers want to sit with her & derail the punishment. Then the boys scream that she isn’t following the rules. In general, Sophie is ignoring me when I tell her no. The eldest jokes she can’t go a day without screaming & crying. Sometimes I think the naughty bench isn’t working. For Sophie’s birthday her main present is going to be discipline. I need to stop the cycle. But I also need to get my husband on board, he will become frustrated with her & yell. He hardly ever yelled at the boys. He never does the time out /naughty bench & he never gets down on her level to discuss what she did wrong. Then in the evening, when we are alone, he will tell me how out of control she is & we need to do something. It’s a cycle. What can we do to change it?

Cyndi, in Pine Bluff, AR

Cyndi, you have all the pieces you need to change this cycle. Now you need a very clear plan with your husband and a family meeting. I’m big on the family meeting.

Your husband clearly has the desire to change the situation. What he may not see is that your daughter’s behavior will change in proportion to how much you and he change your own behaviors. Ask your husband this: What has he tried so far to change Sophie’s behavior? What has worked?

Does yelling work? In truth, Dad yelling often does make a difference in short-term behavior. This has to do with how kids are wired, and studies back it up: when a deep (male) voice is loud they pay more attention. That only changes behavior in that moment though, it doesn’t teach behavior change.

Pick one behavior you want your daughter to change. How about listening? Decide with your husband on a few possible reactions when she doesn’t listen.

Make sure that you have her eye contact when you tell her no, that’s the first strategy. If a child isn’t looking at you when you say something, they probably don’t hear you. Second round: a clear, short explanation of the consequences. Third round she gets the consequence.

Here’s an example. Sophie grabs the juice pitcher on the counter. You (or Dad) get in her line of vision and say, “No, Sophie, please put the juice back.” She continues to take the pitcher to her cup. Get her eye again (you may have to gently turn her chin to face you), “Sophie, put the pitcher back on the counter or I’ll take it and you’ll sit on the timeout bench.” When she continues, take the juice pitcher and put her on the bench. The quieter you are, the more impact your words will have. If you are super mad and don’t trust yourself not to yell, get very close and whisper to her.

After about the 74th time you or Dad do this, she will start to believe you mean what you say, and she will ignore you only about half the time. It’s worth it, keep it up! You are teaching her that she can count on you to do what you say you’ll do and guide her no matter what.

If you and your spouse agree on this 3 step plan, then you sit as a family and talk about consequences. You don’t have to make this all about Sophie’s behavior. You can frame it as a respect issue, because it is! Let all the kids know that, if Mom or Dad gives a consequence to one child, the other kids can’t decide to jump in or “help.” Remind them that consequences are meant to shape behavior, and that they will all be happier if everyone has better behavior so don’t get involved!

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