It seems to me that "mum with the carrot, dad with the stick" is a very bad approach, at least for me (dad) as the kids (the 3.5-year-old mainly) are behaving very badly especially with me! What is better? My wife really does not want to be the stick at all.

Note: when I say stick I just mean limiting his TV time. Of course, most punishment at this age is not going to be much good.

3 Answers 3


Both parents should be involved in the discipline of their children. Sit down with your wife and discuss what you think are appropriate punishments for certain actions. Explain these things to your child up front, for example: "Okay, Suzy, when you complain in the grocery store you can't watch tv when we get home." When expectations are clearly spelled out-- for both parents and children-- things tend to run much smoother.

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    Yes! 100% agree with this - consistency from both parents really helps with discipline.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 10:14

Parenting is hard, it's easy for one parent to defer on punishments to another, but good cop/bad cop parenting isn't good for children or parents:

  • Children associate negativity with one parent
  • It's unfair to the parent in the bad cop role as it's constant unpleasantness. Bad cop parent comes in the door and right away has to start dealing out punishments
  • The children won't take the good cop parent seriously as they know they won't be disciplined
  • When bad cop parent isn't around punishment is deferred, sometimes for most of a day, the message is often lost by the time it's decided. Small children have trouble associating the events

What you need is both parents dealing a consistent message regarding behavior, with consistent punishments when things go wrong. If you do X then Y will happen no matter which parent you're with is a powerful message. The essence of this is communication between parents. Once the kids are in bed discuss common scenarios and set common rewards versus punishments. Write it all down if you want so you can refer to it, and then adjust it for what works and doesn't work on a regular basis.


Both parents should use carrots and sticks. In general, it's probably a good idea to start with carrots and then go to sticks (though admittedly I often rush to the stick).

Note: when I say stick I just mean limiting his TV time. Of course, most punishment at this age is not going to be much good.

I would counsel you to not say or believe that-- it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I would argue a) the discipline and self-control you model and require of your kids at a young age lay the foundation for later, even if they don't "Get it" now, and b) it can be effective. Effectiveness will look different for different kids. And appropriate carrots and sticks will be different too. Limiting TV time may not be enough-- it is effective in that excessive tv time may make behavior worse in the first place-- kids need to hear and understand the what's and why's of right and wrong (in my opinion at least).

The kid we have the most problems with is our 4.5 y/o. There are hours, days, and weeks where he's very difficult. But we can also see positives, particularly in how well-behaved he is when he's out in public or when he's at someone else's house, and with certain traits we are seeing at home as well.

  • In behavioral psychology negative reinforcement is the absence of a response to a stimuli, a pigeon doesn't get a pellet when it pecks a button. When you actively respond to something it's positive reinforcement whether the sentiment is negative or not.
    – GdD
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 7:37
  • thank you, i was being lazy with synonyms. it's an important distinction. i edited my answer. Commented Sep 12, 2018 at 1:49

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