Let’s be real: co-parenting a child is hard – and that goes even for couples who are still together.
You’re two different people. You might have been raised differently or come from different backgrounds. And that means that you may not always agree on how to parent the child(ren) that you share. So, what can you do when you and your partner/ex disagree about something as important as parenting?
It sucks to be in this position, but it’s really normal. I see a lot of parents in my practice trying to come to an agreement about parenting styles. Maybe you want to try gentle parenting, while your partner/ex prefers a more authoritarian approach. Maybe you’re having disagreements about how much responsibility your children should have around the house, or what type of discipline is the most appropriate.
Some other common parenting disagreements include decisions about bedtime, screen time, what they should eat, religious beliefs and practices, how much money to spend on the kids, and more. There are so many varying expert opinions out there about all of these things. Even if you and your partner/ex have completely opposing views, you could probably both find experts to support you. It’s hard to know who’s “right” in these types of arguments!
But the thing is, it’s not about who’s “right.” And it’s important to deal with different parenting styles in a way that sends the right message to your children. You might have heard the saying that parents need to be a united front or as my pediatrician told me, “kids will learn how to divide and conquer if the parents are on different pages”– and there’s so much truth to this. Consistency is always key when it comes to parenting, and that remains true even if you’re having parenting disagreements.
How to deal with different parenting styles: Do’s and don’ts
This isn’t the ultimate authority on how to navigate this challenge with your partner/ex. You know your relationship much better than I do, and it could be possible that you need a deeper intervention (like mediation or therapy) to come to an agreement.
But, in general, following these do’s and don’ts when dealing with different parenting styles can help you protect both your child’s well-being as well as your relationship dynamic.
1. Do find a compromise, and try different approaches togethers.
Even if you agree only to try something out for a few weeks as an experiment, it’s important that you are unified. For example, let’s say that one parent wants to use grounding as a discipline method while the other doesn’t believe it’s useful. If your child learns that they’ll get grounded by one parent but not the other (for the same misbehavior), then this will cause a lot of confusion for everyone involved. When you agree to try something out, both of you need to back each other up.
2. Don’t argue in front of your child, especially if you know that the argument will cause either one of you to explode.
It’s okay for your child to see that you have disagreements that you work through sometimes. But it’s best that they don’t witness shouting, name-calling, or other ugly things that can come up during parental fights. They also shouldn’t be the decision-maker of who “wins” the argument – for example, don’t ask them their opinion on which parenting style they prefer. Keep it between the grown-ups.
3. Do know that it’s normal to have disagreements about parenting styles. Most couples talk about parenting, at least a little, before they have a baby. But unfortunately, there’s no way to really test parenting styles out until you already have a child. You and your partner/ex don’t have to agree on everything, and this doesn’t have to mean the end of your communication. Many parents work through these disagreements and find some common ground.
4. Don’t make it about proving your partner/ex wrong.
This isn’t about being “right” or “winning” the argument. It’s about doing what’s best for your child – and when arguments like this happen, it’s because both of you want to do right by your child (and you think your way is what’s best). Express concerns rather than trying to win. Explain to your partner/ex why this parenting style or decision is so important to you. If possible, talk about how you were parented, and what you want to do differently (or similarly) to your parents.
5. Don’t make shady comments about your partner/ex to your kids.
You know what I’m talking about – those sly or sarcastic comments that throw your partner/ex under the bus. I get it; it can be hard to bite your tongue sometimes. But kids pick up on more than we think, and can tell when you’re not being genuine. All this does is teach your child that it’s okay to be passive-aggressive and fight “dirty.”
6. Do consider getting outside support.
If you can’t come to an agreement yourselves, then a therapist/religious leader/trusted family member may be able to help. Such individuals, including a couples or parenting therapist can provide a safe, neutral space where you can talk through your disagreements. They could give some education and guidance on what has worked for other parents as well as what the research says about some of the best methods for parenting. They may also help you both find common ground and come to a compromise. Another reality is sometimes parents are overwhelmed and fighting because they don't know how to connect to their child and/or their child has unique needs. Family therapy is another source of support that can help.
Lastly, consider a parent support group. There are so many different types of groups but one that is aimed at helping parents improve their skills of communication and compromise can be beneficial. While I don't work with couples directly, you should know of two groups I am facilitating.
One group is the Single Moms Support Group for Women of Color. This group is for single mothers who identify as a Woman of Color and want to connect with other single moms who understand the hardships of raising a child in a single parent household as well as trying to raise their kids differently than how they were raised. Check it out here.
I'm also excited to announce that open enrollment is starting soon for my Summer Camp for Parents group. This "camp" is an in-person camp for parents of children ages 2-8 who are looking to learn how to play and connect with their child. Camp begins in July and will be held for six sessions in Middlesex, NJ. Click here to learn more and sign up to be notified when enrollment begins. Space is limited to four parents so don't wait!
Thank you for reading!
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard about the importance of developing an attachment with your child. It’s especially important when your little one is a baby, in their first 18 months of life.
Okay – so we know it’s important. But what, exactly, does “attachment” mean? How do you know if your child is “attached,” and whether or not that attachment is a healthy one?
In the world of mental health, we’re referring to something specific when we talk about parent-child attachment. This concept is rooted in attachment theory, which was developed in the 1960s by a psychologist named John Bowlby.
According to attachment theory, we all develop one of 4 attachment styles to our caregivers as young children. These attachment styles continue to affect us through our lives and into our adult relationships. Adults with secure attachment tend to have higher self-esteem, better mental health, and healthier relationships.
Secure attachment tends to form within the first 18 months of life. But even if – for whatever reason – your child wasn’t able to form a secure attachment early in their infancy, that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. And vice versa: Even if your child did develop a secure attachment as a baby, that attachment can still be affected by your relationship later in their life.
In today’s blog, I want to share some information about what different attachment styles can look like in young children, and how to start developing (or continuing to strengthen) a secure attachment as your child gets older.
What are the 4 attachment styles?
Attachment styles are split up into two umbrella categories: secure and insecure.
Secure attachment is the healthiest form of attachment – what we’re all striving for with our kids. When your child is securely attached to you, they care about your opinion and presence – but they also trust you enough to be able to do some things on their own.
In a young school-aged child, some signs of secure attachment might be:
Insecure attachment is an umbrella that includes 3 different attachment styles: anxious-ambivalent, avoidant, and disorganized.
Kids with an anxious-ambivalent attachment style have a hard time trusting. In young kids, this might look like:
Kids with an avoidant attachment style reject their caregivers; it’s almost like they want to reject you before you can reject them.
Kids with an avoidant attachment style often:
Kids with disorganized attachment show a mix of both avoidant and anxious-ambivalent behaviors.
What causes insecure vs. secure attachment?
A child’s attachment style is mostly based on parenting style and early childhood experiences. For example, a child who has gone through a separation with their parent(s) might develop an anxious attachment style. A child who has an emotionally absent or unresponsive parent might develop an avoidant attachment style.
But instead of focusing on the negatives, let's focus on the positive - what leads to a secure attachment style. Parents of securely attached kids tend to:
So does your behavior matter to your child? Absolutely. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your “fault” if your child has developed an insecure attachment. There are so many variables. Maybe you lived with an illness when your child was an infant, which prevented you from being fully present. Maybe there was a separation that was out of your control.
Let's not also forget to mention that none of us were given a parenting how-to manual when our kids were born. Most of us end up simply repeating what we observed our parents doing when we were young – and they weren’t given manuals, either. If we, ourselves, had/have an insecure attachment, then that’s probably affected the way we parent our kids.
In any case, I’m not here to point fingers and find the person “responsible” for an insecure attachment. The important thing is to assess your own attachment style, your child’s attachment style and figure out the best way to move forward.
How to work on building a secure attachment with your child
No matter where you are on this journey, there are ways to build and strengthen a secure attachment with your child. And remember – this isn’t just about your relationship with them. It’s about the way they will relate to others for their lives to come.
The first step is to figure out what attachment style your child does have. If you aren’t sure, I offer the Marschak Interaction Method assessment for almost every family I work with. This is an evidence-based tool that can give us some insight into what your and your child's attachment is like and what areas need to be strengthened.
Second, examine your own attachment style. Like I said before, those of us who have insecure attachment styles ourselves are more likely to create that attachment style in our children. But there’s hope. Not only can you repair your child’s attachment style, you can also heal your own. Therapy can help.
On top of these things, there are some other pointers to keep in mind when trying to repair the attachment with your child.
Helping our children develop a secure attachment is one of our most important tasks as parents. And no matter how old our children are, it’s never too late to start fostering this bond and helping them feel secure in the relationship they have with us.
If you need some extra support, I’m here for you. Feel free to get in touch with me any time. Also head over to my support group page to learn about the latest group I am running and reach out if you are interested in joining.
Wishing you much happiness and love on this Valentine’s day!
Happy New Year!
Let’s start 2023 off with a question that parents ask me often,, which is: “Why is my child testing me, and what can I do about it?”
This is an inevitable, but extremely frustrating, developmental stage that almost all kids go through. Let’s say your kid is kicking against the back of your seat while you’re driving. You patiently ask them to stop.
Then, looking you dead in the eye, they lift their little feet… and keep kicking. Argh!
Rest assured -- this is a normal, and an even healthy, part of development for children, especially when they’re around the preschool and early school year age. But why do they do this, and how can you, as a parent, react? Let’s delve in.
Why do children test their parents?
First of all, know that you’re not alone. Many young kids in the preschool years -- maybe even all of them -- test their parents’ limits at least sometimes. This is normal behavior for a child this age, and there probably isn’t anything “wrong” with your child. Testing parents’ boundaries and challenging rules is actually a sign that your child is developmentally right where they need to be.
But why do kids do this? There are many reasons. Mostly, it comes down to this: children often test their parents to make sure that their relationship with you is unbreakable.
Think about it like an experiment your child is conducting. They know the rules, but they need to test them out to see what the consequences are for themselves. In other words, what will happen if they boldly disobey you immediately after you’ve asked them to do something? How will you react? Will you react predictably, in the same way that you did the last time they broke the rules? How much can they get away with?
And, perhaps most importantly, will you still love them when they misbehave?
Sometimes, this type of behavior can be stronger in kids with an insecure attachment style. Studies show that up to 30% of kids have an insecure attachment with their caregivers. A child with an insecure attachment could either be too clingy and needy, or too avoidant or aloof. They could feel less secure in the connection they have with you and be more inclined to test its breakability more often.
But that doesn’t mean that testing boundaries is always a sign of an insecure attachment. Like I said before, testing your limits is a normal part of the toddler to early school-aged years.
On top of testing your relationship, young children can also test boundaries just to assert personal freedom and their own identity. They’re see-sawing between being completely dependent on you and wanting to try things out on their own. They’re still learning who they are and are developing new skills every day.
Children this age can also experience big emotions that they need your support managing. They might test you or break the rules simply because they’re tired, hungry, angry, or cranky.
Lastly, preschool and early school-aged children need a lot of attention. If they learn that testing your limits is a sure-fire way to get your attention (even though it’s negative attention), then they will do it.
What should you do when your child is testing you?
How you react when your child is testing you is the most important piece of all of this. Trust me when I say, I know firsthand how hard it is to know how to react when your child is blatantly pushing your limits.
But, there is a way to deal with it in a way that’s compassionate both to your child and to yourself.
Reframe “challenging” as “testing the connection”
When we think of our child’s behavior as “challenging” or “disobeying” us, this naturally makes us feel more upset as parents. Try to reframe testing behavior as, literally, testing the connection with me. Your child is just experimenting -- they’re testing the waters and trying to figure out what happens when they do so. They aren’t intentionally trying to manipulate you or push your buttons.
In this “experiment” of theirs, how you react is what matters most -- it’s the answer they’re trying to get to.
Connect with your child in the way they need
No two children are alike. How does your child best feel loved and cared for? Is it through having some one-on-one time with you? Is it through physical touch, like a hug or a snuggle? Is it through play?
In those tense moments when your child is testing you, remember that the most important answer they’re seeking is: “Will you still love me no matter what?” Show them your unequivocal YES in the way that they need you to. Make sure they feel loved in this critical moment.
Read my 3-part series on How to Show Love to Your Child!
Be clear and consistent
As they say, consistency is key. We’ll save the discussion about logical consequences and behavior reinforcement for another day. But at the very least, try to react consistently when your child tests you. If you react with anger sometimes, patiently and kindly at other times, and simply ignore them at other times, then your child won’t get the answer to their “experiment” that they’re seeking.
Identify their needs
Try to help your child figure out what their needs are and get them met in a different way. For example, are they testing you because they’re hungry or tired? Do they simply want to see for themselves whether they are capable of doing something?
Be patient with yourself
Lastly, be kind and patient with yourself! Parenting is a hard job, especially when your child tests you in this way. Just like it’s normal for your child to test boundaries, it’s normal for you to be upset about it. Take it a day at a time, and allow the love that you have for your child to guide you.
If you’re a Single mom who tends to get stuck in a cycle of self-criticism or wonder whether you’re doing a “good enough” job as a parent, then my Single Mom support group for Women of Color may be a good fit for you. This group is for you if you’re longing for a judgment-free zone to connect with other Latina moms and learn ways to feel less guilty about parenting and feel more confident. You can get in touch with me to join. First meeting starts January 21st, 2023.
As always, I believe in you! You got this.
Christine M. Valentín
Welcome to my blog where I provide tips and guidance related to common struggles children and parents experience. Sign up below to receive such guidance directly in your inbox!