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The biggest thing parents fight about? How to discipline kids

Here’s how experts say to stop those discipline disagreements.

The biggest thing parents fight about? How to discipline kids

Aligning two different discipline styles isn't an easy task—no argument there. For most of us, responses to our children's naughty behavior is determined not just by our own backgrounds, but also by our broader hopes for the ways we want to raise our children.


With two parents weighing in, this can make matters complicated. In fact, discipline topped debates on spending and nurturing to be the #1 point of contention between parents in a 2015 Care.com survey.

“Frequently, one parent wishes a softer approach, such as explaining, talking and encouraging," says Barbra Russell, LPC. “The other parent wants to use a more stern style with harsher consequences. Each, of course, feels their point of view is the only right one, which can lead to arguments and problems in the relationship."

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Unlike battles over diapers and sleep schedules, discipline disagreements are only likely to evolve in time—often with more on the line when kids reach teenage years.

Here's how experts suggest getting on the same page:

Address your childhood

Studies show most parents' disciplinary philosophies are influenced by the methods their own parents used—especially when it comes to whether parents deem corporal punishment acceptable.

Dr. Fran Walfish, a family psychologist and author of The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child, says that repeating our parents' habits is often done automatically and without consideration to the consequences. For those who don't want to use the same methods with their children, she says it's essential to take an “honest look within" to come up with a better game plan before the heat of the moment.

Be willing to compromise

Once you have a clearer sense of what you want to do—or not do—the next step is to seek an understanding of where your partner is coming from, too. From there, the goal should be combining both value systems in ways that both partners can feel good about, says Dr. Wyatt Fisher, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and author of Total Marriage Refresh.

“For example, a wife may desire empathy for her middle school son struggling in school and not think daily homework checks are needed. However, the husband may desire accountability and want him to prove he's doing his homework to develop self-discipline," says Dr. Fisher. “In reality, both values are important, empathizing with the challenges faced by the student but also requiring some level of accountability to ensure he stays motivated."

Workshop scenarios ahead of time

Some disagreements may be linked more to personality differences between you and your partner than overarching philosophies. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, moms are more inclined to have conversations with children about why behavior was inappropriate as the discipline approach. The same study found moms are more prone to leniency with their kids than dads—which may explain why moms' err on the side of second chances.

In these cases, it may help to come up with a plan ahead of time, says Russell, author of Yes! I Said No! How to Increase Healthy Boundaries and Increase Your Self-Esteem. She suggests reaching an agreement with your partner ahead of time what your expectations are for children's behavior—and then working together to outline consequences if those expectations aren't met.

Look at the big picture

As with many things related to parenting, decisions about discipline should be based on what's in the long-term interests of your child, says Christine Smith, author of 18 Master Values: Be the Parent You Wish You Had. “They have to realize these are little humans they need to love and teach, not property they need to try to control," says Smith.

When you and your partner can both approach these situations with the same goals in mind, it can help give you clarity and purpose. (Which goes a long way when you're trying to maintain patience with a tantruming toddler.)

Assign responsibility to the kids

With discipline in general, the goal should be fostering personal responsibility in our children, says Russell. “When it's time to enforce a consequence, explanation to the child sounds something like this: We're sorry you chose to disobey and therefore you chose this appropriate consequence," she says. “I'm sure you'll do better next time."

When done well, this can also serve to take pressure off you and your partner. After all, the more self-aware the kid, the less you'll need to step in with discipline anyway.

If you and your partner are willing to put this work in today, it will help avoid discipline conflicts tomorrow—while also helping you raise children with both of your strengths.

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    From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

    Wooden doll stroller

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    Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

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    Detective set

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    Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

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    Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

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    Mini golf set

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    Vintage scooter balance bike

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    The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

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    Wooden digital camera

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    Pull-along hippo

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    Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

    There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

    With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

    Minimize smoke exposure.

    Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

    Do your best to filter the air.

    According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

    Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

    "Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

    Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

    "COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

    Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

    Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

    Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

    Most importantly, don't panic.

    In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

    This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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