Shared Custody, Different Rules

Many kids shuttle back and forth between Mom and Dad. We help you cope with a child who balks at your set of rules.
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Q: I am the mother of a 5-year-old boy who lives with his dad during the week. At his father's house, the rules are lenient, and I find myself inheriting a little monster on Friday nights. How can I maintain some semblance of discipline on the weekends?

A: "It's important that you stick to your own standards in your home," says Christy M. Buchanan, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, and coauthor of Adolescents After Divorce. According to Dr. Buchanan, research shows that children act out less if at least one parent keeps reasonable and consistent expectations.

"Even a 5-year-old can understand that there are different rules for different contexts," she says. But as with all discipline issues, you need to be firm and consistent. If your child says he would rather stay at Daddy's, you'll undoubtedly feel hurt, but you need to stand your ground. "Tell him, 'It's important to me that you spend time with both of us,'" suggests Dr. Buchanan. "When he gets older, he'll realize, 'My mom must have really loved me to put up with me all that time.'"

Of course, your job will be easier if you and your ex-husband can explain to your son that he needs to respect both parents' wishes. If possible, try to find a compromise -- a set of standards that you can both agree on to ease your son's transition from home to home. You may want to bring in a mediator or counselor to help with those discussions.

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Copyright © 2002. Reprinted with permission from the April 2002 issue of Child magazine.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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