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All the adults in the household help to enforce the rules enacted upon the toddler except one; That adult often removes the child from discipline when the others are enacting it. We were told by our parenting class that all the adult members of the household have to enforce the rules for the toddler to take it seriously. Said non-conforming member claims that the child is not yet old enough to understand rules. What can be done about this?

  • I don't know about that. That might be the most effective path, but it doesn't mean it won't work if one doesn't play by the rules. My kids almost never cry around me because I've never reacted to crying. They do cry around my wife though. She reacts. It's the job of a parenting class to act like there's a finite way to do things but the reality is all kids are different and what works for some may not work for others. And I think kids will understand more than you'd think. Maybe not the same way. – Kai Qing Apr 17 '15 at 0:15
  • How old is the child? – anongoodnurse Apr 17 '15 at 0:57
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    The toddler is 14 months. – leeand00 Apr 17 '15 at 1:52
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This is a difficult situation, but more common than you'd expect. Frankly, it isn't that good for anyone: the parents aren't communicating and supporting/respecting each other, and the child justifiably will push limits set by the parents, and learn to play two against the middle.

You don't mention who the adults are in the situation, and which adult is the "softie". :-) At 14 months, a child is not too young to learn basics, such as "no" for dangerous things. More complex situations (not throwing things on the ground for pick-up, etc.) are probably out of the child's understanding.

The people who decide how to enforce rules should be the parents, and ideally (I'd say it's very important) they should be reading about it, talking about it, listening to each other, and deciding together. Then they should present a united front.

If there are other adults, for example a grandparent, my personal opinion is that the grandparent should defer to the parents, not the other way around. If you're living with the dissenter for financial reasons, you are coming up against the "money is power" dynamic. Sometimes it's a cultural tradition. Without discussing this (I don't know if this is the situation), I think this non-parental adult is overreaching their non-parent responsibilities.

Given that this is common, what are the up-sides? The pros:

  • Usually one parent feels more comfortable allowing kids more freedom to explore, go on adventures, have more responsibility.
  • Usually one parent is more inclined to say "no" while the other, "yes", so the kids will have more actual leeway.
  • It gives kids skill in dealing with different types/styles of responsible persons.

The cons:

  • One parent is likely to feel unsupported, and feel like "the bad guy". This causes stress between the parents.
  • The child will learn to "divide and conquer" - and here, everybody loses.
  • The child may learn that lying is an effective tool: "But so-and-so lets me do it!"
  • The child questions where authority ought to come from if the parents are in disagreement (confusion).
  • The bulk of the real parenting will fall to the more committed parent.
  • If the children recognize that one parent is permissive for the wrong reasons (e.g. doesn't want to be the "bad guy", or is inconsistent out of laziness or convenience), they will eventually come to disrespect that parent. The teenage years will be much harder for this parent.
  • The children of such parenting conflict actually have more behavior problems.

The solution:

  • Discussion, respectful and ongoing, of changing attitudes, failures, successes, new ideas, etc.
  • Cooperation. If one parent is tired, the other can take over, and the kids have the same standards in place.

Althugh this isn't a scientific study, I think that there is a lot of valuable information here: The Importance of a United Front in Parenting — Especially When It Comes to Discipline.

  • Excellent answer. It's okay to have different parenting and discipline styles. What's important is that the one always support the other in front of the child. You can disagree and argue all you want when alone. Kids are amazing good at adapting to differences between people. They know who to ask when they want ice cream and who to ask when they want to explore the forest on their own. It's only when an individual parent is inconsistent that they get confused. – Brian White Apr 17 '15 at 14:14

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