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Coordinating to Provide Continuity of Early Childhood Discipline Across Caregivers

Angela Oswalt, MSW, Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

In many families, there is more than one primary caregiver. Not always, but often, caregivers are working in pairs. In some families, extended family members may share part of the burden of disciplining children. It's important that all primary caregivers get together at some point to share with one another their attitudes and beliefs about parenting and discipline. Based on this meeting, a shared discipline plan that all parties can agree upon and follow can be crafted. Caregivers who share the same discipline practices provide children with an expectation and a reality of continuity; that no matter who they are dealing with, if they misbehave, they will always face the same consequences. Continuity increases obedience in children, as children who can rely on continuity always know what is expected of them. Children who grow up without continuity of discipline are more likely to misbehave and to feel insecure. Children will continually test the limits set by different caregivers who provide inconsistent discipline so as to determine where the boundaries really are.

couple talkingCaregivers should also support one another in a disciplinary situation. One caregiver should back up the consequence or rule that the other parent has previously explained to a child, unless that consequence is dangerous or abusive. It's alright for caregivers to disagree about how to handle specific situations, but caregivers should discuss their disagreements in private, away from the children. This way, the children see their caregiving team as a united front that will stand firm. Presenting a unified front will save caregivers from future hassles, especially as children grow older and more independent. Children who grow up with caregivers who present a unified front will learn early on that it is a waste of their time to go from caregiver to caregiver in an attempt to escape consequences.


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