You don’t back each other up
Mum says ‘yes’, dad says ‘no’. Sound familiar? Your toddler’s brighter than you might think and once he’s learnt who gives him his own way, he’ll go to them when he wants something.
“It’s crucial to support each other,” says Judy Reith, parenting coach and director of Parenting People. “If one of you allows something and the other doesn’t, it undermines the parent who usually refuses a request and drives a wedge between you,” she explains. Present a united front and your child can’t play you off against each other.
“Keep each other right up to date with what’s going on in your child’s life,” says Dr Claire Russon, clinical psychologist from Vivamus Psychologists. “If one of you is out working all day, talk on the phone before the absent parent returns home. When you both know what’s happening you won’t unintentionally overrule each other.”
You play good cop/bad cop
Parents can often end up competing without realising it. Think about when your toddler climbs into your bed at night – one of you goes to ship him out and, after howls of disappointment, the other parent caves in. This ends up with you falling into opposing parenting roles.
“You don’t always have to unite on everything, but try to find a way to agree on the core values,” says Judy. Claire suggests: “Try discussing how you both want to respond to daily battles like eating, and bigger issues such as discipline, then work out a programme to tackle it.”
“Try to stop yourselves from falling into opposing roles,” says Judy. You can achieve this by avoiding using phrases such as, ‘Just you wait till your dad gets in’.
Dad’s trying to be best buddy
This tends to occur when dad’s out working all week and mum’s at home. “Dad can feel guilty for working and might try to overcompensate with presents and excessive attention,” says Judy.
It’s great that dad wants to have fun with the kids, but he needs to understand he has other parenting responsibilities too. “It’s important both parents are part of teaching a toddler valuable lessons,” says Judy. “Tell your partner you love that he wants to be so involved but sometimes his behaviour makes life harder. For example, if he comes in and gets your child all excited it’s hard to get her to sit down and eat.”
Try not to feel resentful of your partner’s role and avoid getting stuck in these stereotypes by making sure you have the opportunity to have lots of fun with your toddler too.
You’re scared to say ‘no’
Lots of parents will fall into this trap as it plays on your emotions. You don’t want to say ‘no’ because you fear your child will resent you and possibly express that resentment in less than pleasant terms. Children are quite capable of being outrageously rude and saying things such as ‘I hate you’ in the heat of the moment.
“Your toddler will have come to understand the power of words,” says Claire “ and he’ll use anything he’s found to be effective to get what he wants – if he’s learnt that you’ll eventually give in by being extra rude to you, he’ll do it.”
“First of all, when you say ‘no’, don’t take your child’s reaction personally, as it’s a completely normal part of his development,” says Claire.
If you agree to everything your child wants, he will expect this to carry on happening, which isn’t how life works so always remember that you’re doing him a favour by refusing him sometimes.
“When you say ‘no’, get into the habit of telling your child why you don’t want him to do something,” says Judy. “For example you could say, ‘If we’ve brushed our teeth we have water before bed and not squash.’ By saying ‘we’ and not ‘you’, you’re making him feel more secure and part of a family as opposed to feeling like he’s being told off.”
And the most important piece of advice? “Try and say ‘no’ but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t manage it every time,” says Claire.
You’re being inconsistent
If there’s one issue that parenting experts consistently bang on about it’s the ‘c’ word – consistency. But that’s because it really is important for everything from putting routines in place to managing discipline.
“Your toddler needs consistency for him to feel safe and secure and it helps him to learn how to behave and understand what’s expected of him,” says Judy.
On the flipside, giving inconsistent messages tells your toddler that certain behaviours are OK when actually they aren’t.
Whatever tears and tantrums you’re faced with as a result of being consistent, try and soldier on as in the long run it’ll pay off. But don’t fret if you let things go occasionally and fail to stick to your toddler’s routine rigidly. “It’s OK if it’s a one-off and your toddler understands it’s a treat,” says Judy. For example, if he’s stayed up half an hour later because Granny is visiting tell him it’s a special occasion and won’t happen every night.
If you do have to be inconsistent though, for example making a change to your child’s routine, let him know in advance. “Give an explanation he can understand like, ‘In two more sleeps we’ll be doing this’,” says Judy.
“When my partner Richard comes in from work he wants to be fun dad. He gets the kids into a frenzy just as I’m trying to calm them before bed. I appreciate his relationship with them though, so if it gets out of hand, I tell him what I’d do differently and he takes it on board.”
Maria Stead, 35, from Worcestershire, mum to Martha, 5, and William, 3
“Henry likes to climb on the table and my husband and I used to be inconsistent when it came to telling him off. If we weren’t busy we’d say ‘no’ and stop him. But if we were preoccupied, as long as I could see he wasn’t going to fall, we’d let it go. But now I try to stop what I’m doing to take Henry off the table, no matter how many times!”
Celine Peniston-Bird, 26, from Surrey, mum to Henry, 17 months
5 ways to parent together
1. As a couple, pick your top three values that you’d like to see being passed on to your toddler.
2. Make a plan for how to pass these on and stick to it as best you can.
3. Tackle one issue at a time. If you’re trying to implement a sleeping routine, don’t try and deal with eating habits at the same time.
4. Talk through what you’re both good at when it comes to parenting. Positive feedback works wonders.
5. Remember to make time for your own relationship too.