What To Do When Your Family Doesn't Agree With Positive Discipline

It’s normal for families to disagree on the best way to discipline their children. Here’s how you can handle that when you practice positive discipline.

Mother and adult daughter laughing in kitchen while granddaughter watches tablet
Photo: Getty Images

I grew up in a blended family that allowed me to experience varying perspectives—and types of punishments—on raising children. Sometimes our parents used time-outs as punishments. But the majority of the time, our parents took away treasured items or attendance to events. In my household, more emphasis was placed on respect and following rules than compromise after my parents were told the reasons behind our choices.

But still, I noticed punishments never seemed to correct the unacceptable behavior. There were many disagreements on how to handle the diverse personalities of the children in my family. And when these conflicts arose, a lot of it was left unresolved and without consensus despite multiple generations providing opinions. These rifts and reconciliations became a common occurrence. As a result, we didn't learn how to navigate these differences with mutual understanding, kindness, and firmness. I knew I didn't want to continue this pattern when I started my family.

When I was in labor with our twins, the conversation of not spanking them came up once more. My husband and I knew physical punishment wasn't an option for us or anyone who would care for them. It worked for us but made it hard to connect with our support network.

A third child and three years later, we are at the same crossroad as the adults I watched as a child. Being in need of community but feeling pressure to choose between having help caring for them and exposing our children to harm from those who don't share our perspectives.

We supported positive discipline. It is a parenting style grounded in compassion with a framework of boundaries. But we didn't know how to collaborate with our village to keep us connected if our community didn't understand. Many parents like us ask, what healthy boundaries can we implement without alienating the very people we want to share in this journey with?

We've learned to balance cooperation and limits to get the best of both worlds.

Communicate Openly, Clearly, and Honestly

Some people have a hard time buying in without the "why." Dr. Erlanger Turner, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist specializing in family and children and founder of Therapy for Black Kids, explains it's not uncommon for extended family to disagree with discipline decisions. Conversations help bring understanding. He states, "if you feel compelled to share those parts of your life, you can let me them know your parents' parenting style and share how it impacted your life. This may create an opportunity for them to see your perspective—even if they still decide to disagree."

Share Research-Based Resources That Show the Science Behind Your Choices

Sharing a list of books and articles, and other sources on positive discipline provides an objective perspective. Dr. Earl calls this "the science route." "Sometimes people are willing to have a dialogue on things such as parenting style when you share what science is available on the topic," says Turner. Research shows physical punishment, and authoritarian parenting lead to aggressive behavior and self-esteem problems. However, positive discipline promotes emotional regulation and setting appropriate boundaries.

Trust Yourself To Do What's Best for Your Household

We live in states away from both sides of our families. Even though technology could connect us, we made the hard decision to distance ourselves from certain family members until our children are old enough to verbally express how they want to be treated specifically. The stress of communicating boundaries but lack of acceptance took a major toll on us. Instinctively, we knew centralized refocusing, repair, and restructuring was the best strategy for us to begin building a village of like-minded people.

Carefully selecting how and when everyone engages may be the most realistic solution because we can't control what the ones we love choose to do. Be prepared for discomfort. Dr. Earl recommends creating opportunities for your family to see how your parenting style works. "It could be an excellent idea to help shift their perspective," says Turner." By showing them first-hand how your discipline style works. It can provide direct evidence to them to show the benefits."

Be OK with Some Loved Ones Being Uncomfortable

I have found that defensiveness usually leads the conflict in these discussions with my loved ones. Deviating from the "way it's always been done" can spark feelings of criticism of previous generations. In my experience, the opposition came from triggered negative feelings around how they parented, mistakes they feel they made and regrets that they have. Holding empathy for them means recognizing their prickliness may not be personal. The behavior is unacceptable, but the emotions are valid.

This positive discipline journey—while new—has improved my experiences with my husband and the people I encounter. Whether our families begin to accept this new perspective or not, I'm confident there is a group of people for us. They will be there with open arms, encouraging us and respecting us. They will value our uniqueness in how we learn from mistakes and our willingness to teach so we all grow more every day. There will be a time to close the distance. In the meantime, we'll keep building slowly.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles