My husband, Jason, and I linger at the dinner table, trying to ignore the fight brewing over Yu-Gi-Oh! cards in the next room. Eli, 8, has "borrowed" his older brother Milo's prized Exodia Necros card, and Milo wants it back. When polite requests fail, Milo, 10, resorts to arm-twisting -- literally. Eli howls.
"Milo, to your room, now!" Jason bellows as he stomps into the family room.
"Wait, can't we first have Eli recognize that this wouldn't have happened if he'd just given the card back?" I ask, chasing after him.
"We can do it after the time-out," says Jason.
"But the teachable moment is now," I insist.
"The teachable moment is going to have to wait till after the time-out," he says.
Look who's fighting now -- and in front of the kids.
Conventional advice is that parents should present a united front when it comes to discipline. But, as many couples know, this isn't always how things go. Many discuss, debate, and just plain argue about discipline, which is okay.
When you disagree about something, each of you has a chance to air your attitudes and approaches, which helps you hear each other's viewpoints more fully. More important, "it can lead to a better, more thoughtful resolution," says Anthony Wolf, Ph.D., author of "Mom, Jason's Breathing on Me!" In other words, disagreements about what to do when the kids misbehave can lead to well-considered rules and consequences for breaking them that seem fair to everyone.
But not every childhood crime will have an agreed-upon punishment in place at the time it's committed. That's when the grown-ups may find themselves publicly at odds, and that's not necessarily bad, provided you do it properly (more on that in a minute). "Your child will see that issues have two sides, and both should be listened to," says Michele Borba, author of 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know. "Beyond that, she can learn the art of negotiation, compromise, and peacemaking."
So, your child can actually glean these lessons from seeing her parents face off; you just need to follow some ground rules. (But keep in mind that a child under 3 1/2 won't be able to take away anything positive from watching Mommy and Daddy bicker. With a little kid, you should take it outside -- or at least into the next room. If that's not possible, just stow it until later when she's asleep.)
Janet Siroto is the editor-in-chief of Happen, an online dating and relationships magazine.