Communication between parents is absolutely essential. If a child can “divide and conquer,” they grow up to be liars. In addition, they lose respect, and they begin to feel insecure and unsafe, not knowing what to expect in their environment. Finally, they lose trust, and trust is the foundation on which all relationships are built. If your children know that you will do what you say you will do, they will feel secure in their relationship with you, even when they are being disciplined. So before you respond to a child’s request for permission to do something, consider what your spouse would say, and if you don’t know, tell the child you will get back to them. Discuss ahead of time what your stance as a parental unit will be on a variety of issues and questions. Decide ahead of time what values you hold most dear for your home, and stick with those values as guides for every discussion with your children, big or small.
In our home, we had very simple guidelines, rather than household rules, and every decision was made based on those guidelines. The first was safety, and if the question did not meet the criteria of safety, it was discussed no further. Then we used consideration, respect, and responsibility as our final three guidelines. Every decision was discussed based on those parameters. Is it considerate of others? Does it show respect to yourself and others? Is it responsible, and can you fulfill your responsibilities if you do this? Undergirding all of these issues was trust, which we overtly stated and displayed as our highest value. This value meant that if the trust was violated (if someone lied) all privileges were suspended until such time as trust was earned back, no matter how long that took. Violating trust was the only behavior that lost all privileges and freedoms; all other behaviors were dealt with using logical and natural consequences. For example, if the kids argued over the television, we simply turned off the television, because they were being inconsiderate and disrespectful. If they left their toys out and we had to pick them up, they became our toys since we had to be responsible for them, which meant they were in a bag up in my closet, or maybe even sent to Goodwill. Consequences were not arbitrary and were not time-limited. Whatever was lost had to be earned back through responsible, considerate, and respectful behavior. Using the above example, the TV was turned back on when the kids all agreed on what they wanted to watch and cooperated in a considerate and respectful way with each other. Toys were given back when the child demonstrated responsible behavior with their other toys, or in keeping up with their other things, for however long it took to see that they could be responsible. These are just a few examples of logical and natural consequences. Arbitrary (unrelated to the offense or time-limited) punishments are not effective in teaching the child the lessons of responsibility, consideration, and respect.
Consistency is important for each parent and between parents as well. If you tell a child they need to clean their room before they can go outside to play, and then you let them go outside without their room being cleaned and inspected, you just taught the child they cannot trust you. If daddy says clean your room, and mommy says, “Oh honey, go on outside and play,” you just taught them not to trust either of you. This is an example of one of those unintended consequences mentioned earlier. It might be easier to let them off the hook, and you might even feel bad about some consequence you set, but do not go back on your word, or they will not take you seriously in the future and will test every limit you set.
Parenting is hard work, and there is no way around that. But if you do the hard work upfront, it is much easier in later years. Being slack when they are little, being inconsistent or not following through, will have dire consequences for you when they are adolescents. Unfortunately, by the time they are teenagers, their choices can have life and death consequences. You want them to know how to make good choices well before they reach the age where a poor choice can radically change or even end their lives.