By Parenting Research Centre
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Mum, Dad and two teens laughing on a couch
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 negative effects of frequent and harsh 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

Ideas for now Examples
Plan ahead – use the same rules in front of the children, and stick to them.
  • Talk with your partner about what rules are most important at the moment. Three or four rules is enough at any one time.
  • Decide together how you will enforce rules before you need to use them.
  • Decide how you will reward your child for following rules – for example, by giving praise or spending time together.
Try not to go back on a decision your partner has made.
  • Check whether your partner has already dealt with a situation before acting.
  • If you don’t like the way your partner is dealing with a situation, wait until its over and discuss it later. 
  • If a new situation comes up, let your partner know how you dealt with it. 
  • If youre 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.

Look for ways to back each other up with actions.

  • Share tasks such as putting children to bed – plan ahead so you can both take turns. 
  • If your partner is dealing with a situation, offer support by taking care of any other children.
  • When its over, offer emotional support by giving a hug or making a cup of tea.
Discuss child or parenting problems after an incident.
  • When the situation is over, sit down and discuss how it went. You can even write things down for later if it wont be possible to talk in the near future.
  • Praise your partner for anything that he or she did well.
  • Try making only one suggestion. Youll have other opportunities to make other suggestions. Write them down if youre afraid you’ll forget.
  • Hold the discussion away from the children.
Give extra support – practical and emotional – when your partner is stressed or tired.
  • 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 contradicting what your partner has said to the children.
  • Agree on rules, rewards and consequences in advance.
  • Before responding to your children, check with your partner to see whether a request or problem has been dealt with.
Avoid stepping in and taking over when your partner seems to be having trouble.
  • 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 increase  confidence.
  • Ask if your partner would like you to help.

Hold regular catch-ups about the children so you can discuss approaches and ideas for dealing with problems.

  • Make a regular time to talk about the children and parenting.
  • 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.

Getting help

If you are in a relationship that involves violence, seek professional help and do whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of you and your children.

  • Last updated or reviewed 30-08-2011
  • Acknowledgements The Parents and Teamwork series was produced with support from the Victorian Government Department of Human Services. © Copyright Victorian Government Department of Human Services 2005