Marion Bilich, PhD, on Presenting a United Front

If my daughter doesn't get her way with Mommy, she can often turn to Daddy. How can we prevent her from manipulating us?

Question

My baby is almost 12 months old and she's already figured out that if she doesn't get her way with Mommy, she can often turn to Daddy. How can my husband and I present a "united front" so that my daughter will stop manipulating us? What do we do when we really don't agree on something my daughter wants? Should one of us give in anyhow just so she doesn't see us "divided"?

Answer

Kids are very quick to learn how to get what they want. Once they figure out what works, they'll do it again! That's why it's so important to stop this behavior before it becomes entrenched. Your child must learn that pitting her parents against each other will never get her what she wants.

Presenting a united front is simple. You and your husband just have to agree that any attempt to get the other parent's approval after being turned down by the first will result in your child not getting what she asked for, under any circumstances. If Mommy says "no," and then Daddy is approached, he has to say "no," even if under ordinary circumstances he would have clearly said "yes."

You also have to explain to her that her behavior is unacceptable. Even if a 12-month-old baby cannot understand all your words, she will pick up the meaning from the way you say it. Make it clear you are angry about her behavior.

As long as your daughter has not tried to manipulate the two of you into giving her what she wants, you and your husband can disagree in front of her. It is okay to say that Mommy and Daddy need to talk this over and come to a decision. It's better that the two of you work it out than have one of you "give in" just for the sake of protecting your child from your disagreements. In fact, children actually benefit from seeing that their parents can disagree and then work it out with each other. They learn the valuable lesson that disagreements are not necessarily a bad thing in a relationship.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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