Playing Parents Against Each Other
Licensed clinical social worker Janelle Althen shares tips for parents.
The problem: Our child likes to play my husband and me against each other, hoping to get what she wants. It sometimes drives a wedge between us as a couple. How can we avoid this and parent as a united front
The expert: Janelle Althen, licensed clinical social worker at the PASS Center
The solution: First, understand that this is a very common and normal situation. Kids are wired to keep themselves safe and get their needs met. In the process, they do sometimes work one parent against the other. However, left unchecked, this is very unhealthy for children because it gives them too much power and leaves them with a feeling of instability and insecurity.
When presented with this situation, keep the following in mind:
- Parents who are unified help the behavior dissolve. But parents who don’t know how to present a unified front tend to reinforce the behavior.
- Even though having control, getting what they want, or having power feels good to kids temporarily, in the big picture, kids want their parents to be in control, in charge, and unified.
- Acknowledge that, as parents, you don’t have to share the same parenting style. Children will adapt to different styles as long as the parents are reasonably consistent.
- Avoid undermining or alienating the other parent during a parent-child conflict.
- If you sense your child is coming to you hoping for a different answer than the other parent gave, tell your child you’re going to discuss it with their other parent, and then you”ll get back to them.
- Support and build up the other parent in front of the children.
- If you disagree with how the other parent is handling something, pull them aside, away from the child, to discuss the issue.