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Discipline After Divorce

It's not easy for parents to lay down the law after divorce. Not only are they emotionally exhausted, they're reluctant to come down too hard on a child who has been through the breakup. Adding to the stress, parents must often navigate their children between two different sets of house rules. But maintaining consistent limits is an important way to provide stability. Here's how:


Attempt to sit down with your ex and decide how closely you'll work together. Some parents prefer to consult on only the big issues  -- like what to do if your child is bullying his classmates  -- whereas others want to coordinate everything from bedtime to TV rules. To stay focused on your child and not your past together, try to think of your ex as a business partner, suggests Patricia Stenger-Dowds, Ph.D., a family therapist and instructor of family studies at New York University Medical Center. Meet in public places (without the kids), be courteous, have a specific agenda, and write down what you've decided upon.


If you and your ex-spouse aren't able to find common ground on certain issues  -- homework schedules, say, or chores  -- just make your own house rules. Most experts agree that children are able to understand and adapt to different rules in different environments  -- at home, at daycare, at Grandma's, or at your ex's house.


The key to discipline in any situation is consistency. Offer firm statements like, "It's fine that you don't have to clean your room at your dad's house, but here we pick up our own toys." You may be called the mean one, but try to remember that kids are always testing their limits. Your child will ultimately benefit from the security your rules provide.


Unless you've agreed upon it beforehand, don't expect your ex to enforce a punishment you've handed down. It's not fair to the other parent, notes Stenger-Dowds, and the length of a penalty isn't as important as the enforcement of a rule. When bad behavior occurs right before a visit with Mom or Dad, an immediate consequence, like a time-out, will suffice for kids under 6. For older children, discipline  -- such as revoked privileges or extra chores  -- can wait. And if you and your ex do decide to let repercussions apply in both homes, discuss in advance which infractions are major enough for you to consult with each other about.

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