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When You Disagree About Discipline

Ground rule: Know how to shut things down if tempers do flare.

Of course, no one wants a discussion about the best punishment for Play-Doh jammed into the DVD player to devolve into a screaming match. But sooner or later there will probably be a discipline "debate" that threatens to spin out of control in front of your child. And if that happens, not only are you giving your child an education in how to lose it, you also run the risk of having her think she's to blame.

It's time to take it down a notch when your voices get an edge to them, you start making derogatory comments, it's clear things are about to escalate, or your child's getting upset. Three parent-tested tactics for when it's best to hash it out in private:

Use a code word. "One of us will say 'pas devant,' which is French for 'not in front of'..." says Dolnick. "Then we tell Elisabeth, 'Mom and Dad need to discuss this in private, and we'll get back to you with our decision.'"

Give him the hairy eyeball. "When Dave starts telling me to lighten up, I give him The Look  -- okay, you might call it a glare," says Mysona. "He knows it means, 'You know where we stand on this; it's not up for debate.'"

Walk away. "When I don't want to lose it, I go into the yard or the bathroom, where I break the tension. Nothing gets resolved until I come back and am ready to talk it through," says Mercy Eelman, a mom of two, in Westfield, New Jersey.

Will this hashing-it-out discipline style work for you? Much will depend on the kind of partners you are. The night of the Yu-Gi-Oh! card-snatching incident, a big part of me wished our family had ironclad house rules. But instead, we debated the situation for a few minutes, and I somewhat reluctantly let my husband decide the consequences. (His winning foray? "Okay, let's not have a time-out. Instead, let's reinforce that bickering over cards is a fantastic way for our family to spend the evening.")

Our discipline style pretty much reflects who we are as a couple and a family: two very different people who know that, with a little negotiation and just a touch of sarcasm, we can work out just about anything. And there's nothing wrong with our kids seeing that.