Kids Divide and Conquer


While at the park today I noticed a young child about the age of 4 screaming at the top of her lungs and kicking her mother because the swing she wanted to swing on was taken by my child. The mother explains to her daughter she needed to swing on a different swing because my daughter was in the swing she wanted. The child’s anger escalated. The mother told the child if she continued to throw a “fit” she would go to time out. The child continued her tantrum and the mother placed her in time out a few feet away. The child continued to scream louder and demanded that she get the swing she wanted as it was next to her playmate. I felt bad for the mother. I have a daughter close to that age and myself have experienced the occasional temper tantrum in the park or grocery store.

All kids throw temper tantrums, but for parents it can be quite humiliating. I was applauding the mother in my mind for following through and placing the child in time out. But the child did not calm down and accept her consequence. Instead she screamed even louder and started kicking the ground. What happened next, was shocking to me. The child’s father went over to the little girl and began hugging and comforting her. He then picked her up out of her time out spot and moved her to a bench and began laughing with her. The mother, obviously angry, went over to her partner and the two began arguing. The mother explaining the daughter needed to accept consequences for her behaviors and the father stating that he was embarrassed by the screaming in the park. The child did stop her tantrum, but what do you think she learned from this? Divide and conquer.

Never underestimate the brilliant minds of children. Do you remember being a child and knowing your parents weak spots? Mom wouldn’t spank you so you knew that you could get away with really bad things when Dad was at work? Or Dad would always give you a cookie even after Mom told you that you didn’t eat enough dinner? Your children will do the same. They know the limits and boundaries you place on them. They remember every incident you don’t follow through with a consequence. Although saving face in the park may sound appealing to deal with your own anxiety about people looking at you, it only sets you up for more tantrums in the park.

My husband and I discussed long before we had children to have a united front. If he says “No” then I say “No” and vice versa. Even if we don’t agree with the other’s decision, we say we do for the time being. Then later when the little ears are not able to listen, we might discuss that we did not agree with the other parent’s decision at the time and talk about other options. That goes for both rewards and consequences. But we never discuss this in front of the children. They see us playing on the same team.

You may not agree 100% with your partner on parenting decisions, but its important that you get on board in front of the children. Pushing limits and testing boundaries is a normal part of child development. Parents and Step-Parents need to put aside their personal feelings and unify in front of the children. I often tell my clients to create behavioral contracts and rules that apply to both houses. This creates a unified front in blended families. Kids need to know that they have a team of parents all supporting each other. Not only does this alleviate manipulation of rules, but it also creates a strong sense of stability for children. Modeling healthy boundaries at home also teaches children that rules must be followed whether they are at school, church, soccer practice, dad’s house, mom’s house, or grandma’s house. So parents stand together and support each other, and watch your children blossom in a blanket of security.