“In an ideal situation, families have set boundaries, rules, and values,” says Heidi Allen Garvin, founder of the website Mormon Moms. But things don’t always run so smoothly, acknowledges Garvin, and that’s when both parents need to work together thoughtfully and with compassion:
“When a question arises from a child who says, ‘But…Mom/Dad lets me do it,’ it can either cause dissension or it can be an opportunity to work together and find common ground, both with the child and in the family as it grows and establishes itself.
“The parent would do best to not panic and may say to the child, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that. Let me talk to your dad about it.’ This provides the child the chance to watch his parent’s work through and resolve an issue; an example to him of how to handle challenges. The communication can be done just with the couple or in a family ‘council’ setting where all opinions are voiced and respected. Children need and thrive with helpful boundaries. In a situation where a question arises, it can be one of two things: one, the child is testing family and parental boundaries; two, the child doesn’t know what the boundaries and rules are.
“Since all of us have been parented differently, it’s obvious that we’re going to face some differences of opinion as we raise our own children. These can either tear us apart and cause friction and disharmony or open doors for us to work together and compromise on issues that are flexible. But, if we can’t do so, then disharmony grows and all individuals are affected negatively.
“If we look upon these kind of questions as an opportunity to come together in a common cause, strengthening home and family, then issues can be building blocks for both parents and children. When questions are more serious, or are based upon religious or strong moral beliefs, one solution may be to scale the importance of that issue for each parent. ‘On a scale from 1 to 10, how strongly do you feel about this?’ If one parent feels it’s a ‘4’ and the other a ‘9,’ then, in respect and love, the first yields to the second. This works best if both are honest and not too controlling.
“As parents, we also need to pick our battles. This means that some issues are less worrisome than others. If one parents says it’s okay for the child to have a healthy snack before dinner, that should and could be okay. A small child may need to keep blood sugar levels regulated for his own well-being. These things can be discussed.
“With parents who are divorced, some things may be more difficult to resolve. That can be unfortunate as children do better with shared values and boundaries. But, the one parent may need to say to the child: I know that at Dad’s you may do things differently. But here in our home these are our boundaries and our rules, and I make them because I love and care about you. If you don’t feel that they are fair, let’s discuss them and you can tell me why — because I care about how you feel. Sometimes, as an adult, I can see things that you can’t and I set some rules to protect you.
“If our goal is to help our children feel loved, secure, and stable, then we’ll strive to do things in their best interest. This may include some tightening of some rules and some easing off on others. We need to listen to them and then try to help them understand things in a new light as we all work together to help these children become healthy and productive adults themselves one day.”
Here’s how 4 other parenting experts say to respond…
Give kids credit for trying to get what they want, says parent coach and psychologist Erica Reischer. But to keep the endless back-and-forth in check, follow this one guideline. Format: Video (1:37)
“Are you on the same highway with your partner?” asks The Parents We Mean to Be author Richard Weissbourd. If not, make sure you get there to avoid constant conflict. Format: Video (1:20)
America’s Supernanny, of TV fame, lays out her plan for how to reconcile differences when it comes to parenting styles — and still maintain a harmonious household. Format: Article
The co-author of the seminal How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk offers an example of how to respond to this wily kid comment. Format: Article