Many couples experience conflict related to child rearing, especially when difference emerge on how they should be cared for. But according to the experts, there are 7 things that almost any parent can — and should — agree on when it comes to raising their kids.
Differences in opinion between partners are extremely common, and it’s even more prevalent when it comes to raising kids. There can be a number of reasons why you and your partner have differences in opinion when it comes to the kids, including:
- how you were raised
- your personalities
- how busy you both are
- different views on discipline
- conflicting attitudes on freedom and levels of risk for children
- children’s chores
- choice of schools and extra‐curricular activities
- the special needs of one or more of the children
In a very busy household, meal and sleep routines can also be neglected and the atmosphere can be stressful. Both children and parents find it difficult to thrive in a
chaotic household. If you are easy‐going, you might put up with a lot more than your partner is prepared to tolerate, and if you are a strict disciplinarian, your partner might think you are too hard on the children.
But whatever you disagree on, it’s important to find ways to work through your differences for the benefit of the children. Seeing parents argue about them harms children, as they tend to think it’s their fault.
Bringing up children is the most complex job you’ll ever have, though it’s easier when there’s some agreement between you and your partner on how to do it. It’s never too late to talk about what’s important to you both as parents and develop some guidelines to help you in the parenting years ahead.
So with that being said, here are the 7 things our relationship experts say are important to implement and agree on when it comes to raising your kids.
1. Help your children build resilience and connection
You can help your children develop skills and resilience which will support their self confidence in managing things when you are not around (like at kindy, school and beyond). The Raising Children Network (www.raisingchildren.gov.au) provides great tips on developing resilience and establishing boundaries.
It’s also important to support children to learn how to talk and engage in conversation. Families who have dinner together at a table (without the TV on) and talk to each other often have greater resilience and connection. You can chat to children and ask their opinion about what the family are doing, what you’re doing, age appropriate news, community happenings or their activities and interests. Make it casual and avoid sounding as though you are interrogating them!
Family conversation creates trust and children learn that you can talk and disagree and still love and care for each other.
2. Give your children limits and choices
Children need rules and limits to help them feel safe. It’s also helpful for them to understand that parents make most of the important decisions that affect them and the reasons why. As they get older, children get to have more say about what happens in their lives.
Even when they are little, children benefit from making some decisions, because they learn from making good and bad choices. If you keep rescuing children from their own decisions, they don’t learn anything (except that mum and dad are a soft touch).
Sometimes breaking the limits you set is a good way for children to rebel and assert their independence in a safe way — better they test the limits at home than out in the wider community.
3. Mean what you say
If you make idle threats that you don’t intend carrying out children soon learn that you are not true to your word. “If you don’t tidy your room, you won’t come with us when we go on holiday.” Do you really mean that ‐ what will you do with them? If you say you’ll ground your teenager for a month, you will have a horrible month – it may be better to ground them for a weekend and do family things together, rather than back down after two miserable weeks.
4. Talk to your children
The more you talk about big and small things with children every day from an early age, the more they are likely to talk to you about the things that worry them as they get older (including the big things that worry you). Talking about what’s happening in the family, at school and in the wider world is a way of building trust, showing interest and showing them they are loved. Start the talking habit early, before the complex teenage years have begun.
5. Let them know you’re interested in them and want to spend time with them
Being interested means you spend time playing lego, dressing dolls, bowling cricket balls, playing board games, baking a cake, reading the school newsletter, listening to a detailed account of how a sporting match or dancing class went, learning how the latest bit of technology works or listening to their current favourite song – you’ll often have fun, learn a lot, and it helps keep you young and connected to them.
It is important for you to know who their teacher is, who their friends are, their interests and to recognise when they are behaving differently. If you know your child well you will see if they are upset, worried or unwell and know how to support them.
6. Be honest
If your child wants something you can’t possibly afford for their birthday, it’s better to say so than have them build up their hopes and be disappointed on the day. Children also need honest answers about life and death, sexuality, parental mistakes and world news. Keep your answers age appropriate and apologise if you have made an error. It’s better they learn things from you than from a dubious website or in the playground.
7. Be fair
Children are quick to pick up on what they consider to be unfair, so try to be balanced. If one child gets lots of parental time, treats and rewards because they are talented at something, it doesn’t mean that the other children should all miss out. Try to balance your time and weekends fairly among all your children. Siblings know each other longer than anyone else in their lives, so the more you can do to encourage good relationships between them, the better it will be for them during childhood and later in life.
Remember: there are very few “rights” and “wrongs” when it comes to raising kids
At the end of the day, as long as kids know they are loved and cared for, and you keep them safe, there are very few absolute “rights” and “wrongs” when if comes to bringing up children. A few final things to keep in mind:
- you are the most significant role model in their lives
- children need consistency, routines and boundaries
- children are individuals – what works for one child, may not work for the other children.
If you seem to be struggling to communicate with your partner, and can’t have conversations about raising the children without anger and recriminations, consider seeing a counsellor to get help.
Relationships Australia can help you discuss any issues you may be facing, and develop ways to manage conflict with your partner in the future. In some states and territories you can also attend a parenting skills course and meet other parents who want to increase their parenting and relationship skills. Find out more about our Relationship Education Group Programs here.