Parents should agree to have same standards


November 12, 1995|By Beverly Mills

My 3 1/2 -year-old son behaves differently depending on which parent he's with. I have fewer problems than his mother. What might account for the inconsistency, and what can we do about it?

Clint Williams

Phoenix, Ariz.

"Your son behaves differently because he already knows what he can and cannot do with each of you," says Pat Brown, a Child Life reader and former elementary school and day-care teacher from Chesapeake, Va. "This problem was no surprise to me. As a matter of fact, I think it's typical."

No matter how parents try to counteract it, children will naturally react somewhat differently to each parent. But when the relationships swing too far off kilter, child-development experts say, it's time to strike a better balance.

"All children do basic marketing research to find out how in charge and confident their parents are," says Mel Silberman, a professor of psychological studies in education at Temple University and a family therapist in private practice in Philadelphia.

"The best way for children to do that is to test their parents," says Dr. Silberman, author of the new book "When Your Child is Difficult" (Research Press, $12.95).

In response to this testing, many parents follow predictable patterns that often differ by gender, says Elizabeth Ellis, a clinical psychologist and family therapist in private practice in Atlanta.

"In the majority of families I see, children will comply quicker to requests from a father," says Dr. Ellis. "Fathers as a group tend to be stricter, sterner and more concise in their demands, while mothers are more emotional, more sensitive to the child's needs and give more lengthy explanations for why something should be done."

A special-education teacher from Buffalo, N.Y., agrees. "You [the father] have fewer problems because you have more consistent, more defined expectations," Sandy Boczar says. "Perhaps you do as you say, whereas with the mother, some whining, crying and arguing must wear her down to the point where she gives in."

To avoid this, many readers suggest making a plan, in private, for presenting a united front.

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