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?
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.
- 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.
- 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.