Q&A: Discipline and coParenting with Stepparents
What do you recommend in coParenting situations when the stepparent and the biological parent have different ways to discipline children? The stepparent “spanks” or “clips” the child? Or gets in their face and yells – literally bends down into their faces and yells? Breaks favorite toys as a form of punishment? And the step-parent and the biological parent have had numerous discussions about it, but it continues to happen?
Dr. Judith Bin-Nun:
Thank you for writing to ask this critical question about discipline. For all children, in any family structure but especially in coParenting situations, the rule of thumb for a child to thrive is to have consistency in as many aspects of parenting as possible. This is not implying perfection and should allow for the unique personalities of the parents to be included within the consistent routines.
Specifically in coParenting families, the goal is to try to work together as a team of parents/stepparents and discuss consistent discipline and routines. Keeping bedtimes, chores, homework, sibling issues, and expectations as similar as possible will make your child adjust better to the two home dynamic.
You have made strong efforts to achieve consistency by having numerous discussions between yourself and the step parent, sadly with no resolution. The discipline methodology you mentioned such as: “spanking, yelling in the child’s face, breaking favorite toys” is counter to any appropriate means of a safe and protective techniques that teach the child to accept responsibility for his/her behavior and to give appropriate consequence. I am concerned for the welfare of the child who may be frightened by this inappropriate method of discipline. Spanking, yelling, breaking toys are unacceptable parenting behaviors for any parent.
Since you have attempted to have numerous discussions and they have not been productive in achieving consistency, I suggest that you meet together with a child therapist or professional to work with all parents involved and help find a constructive and consistent way of disciplining the child that you share. All parents involved, including fathers, should be part of this therapeutic intervention so that everyone can be on the same page. Ultimately if you feel that your child is being abused by this behaviour more seriously actions can be taken to ensure the safety and wellbeing of your child, which is most important here. The ideal situation is if the two families can come to an understanding and work together.
I hope that my advice helped to guide you toward a positive resolution.