When children see parents backing each other up, they learn about supporting others, accepting support, being consistent with family rules and getting along with others.
Backing each other up: why it’s important
Partners who back each other up find it much easier to manage their children’s behaviour. Agreeing with each other in front of children makes it easier to discipline them.
Children thrive in environments where they know what their limits are and see rules being used consistently. They also learn quickly. That includes quickly grasping the fact that one parent is softer or that some rules apply with one parent and not the other. This can create extra tension between parents.
Backing each other up is also part of protecting children from the downsides of conflict. This doesn’t mean agreeing just because it’s in the best interests of the child. It’s about showing children how you can respect and support each other, even when you have a difference of opinion.
It might not always be possible to agree. Sometimes it’s worth agreeing to agree in front of children and postponing the discussion until later.
Ideas for backing each other up
Plan your family rules
- Talk with your partner and agree on family rules, rewards and consequences in advance.
- Decide which rules are the most important – 3-4 rules is enough at any one time.
- Decide together how you will enforce rules before you need to use them.
- Use the same rules in front of the children, and stick to them.
- Decide how you will reward your child for following rules – for example, by giving praise or spending time together.
Back up your partner’s decisions
- Check whether your partner has already dealt with a situation before acting. Try not to go back on a decision your partner has made.
- If you don’t like the way your partner is dealing with a situation, wait until it’s over and discuss it later.
- If a new situation comes up, let your partner know how you dealt with it.
- If you’re unsure about how to deal with a new situation, have a chat with your partner about it. Perhaps find out how friends handle the situation and discuss ideas you like with your partner.
Support each other in practical ways
- Share tasks such as putting children to bed. Plan ahead so you can both take turns.
- If your partner is dealing with a difficult situation with a child, offer support by taking care of any other children. When it’s over, offer emotional support by giving a hug or making a cup of tea.
Debrief problem situations
- Discuss child or parenting problems when they’re over and everyone is calm.
- When the situation is over, sit down and talk about how it went. You can even write things down for later if you can’t find time now.
- Praise your partner for anything that he or she did well.
- Try making only one suggestion. You’ll have other opportunities to make other suggestions. Write them down if you’re afraid you’ll forget.
- Have your discussion away from the children.
Give extra support when your partner is tired or stressed
- Keep an eye out for periods when your partner could do with extra help.
- Let your partner know that all the effort is appreciated.
- Offer extra practical help or give more positive feedback.
- Sometimes simple emotional support can make a big difference – like just being there ready to help or listen (and not being distracted by other things).
Avoid stepping in
- Even if your partner seems to be having trouble, try not to step in and take control. Ask if your partner would like you to help.
- Look for other ways to help – sharing tasks such as housework and picking up children from school also takes the pressure off. Hold back and discuss with your partner and even your children separately if relevant.
- Give praise for the effort your partner is making – praise can give your partner more confidence.
Have regular catch-ups even when things are going well
- Make a regular time to talk about the children and parenting. This gives you the chance to plan approaches and ideas for dealing with future challenges.
- If you have to change the time, set up another time.
- Focus on sharing the good things about parenting and your children as well as any problems.
Keep your long-term relationship with your partner in mind. Demonstrate that you appreciate each other by being polite and respectful.
If you’re in a relationship that involves domestic violence, call a helpline, seek support and do whatever you need to do to ensure your safety and your children’s safety.