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Dr. Phil & Robin's Do-It-Yourself Marriage Makeover

Problem 4: Kids Who Won't Listen continued...

The number one situation to avoid is any sort of good-cop, bad-cop parenting setup, where Mom's always kind of indulgent and Dad is a harsh drill sergeant. Kids won't get it: This is OK for me to do when Mom's here, but not OK when Dad's here? Children want stability, they want predictability, they want consistency. They want to know that parents speak with one voice — and let me say that this even applies in a divorce situation. What is the law in one household should be the law in the other; parents can be divorced but still remain united in what is and is not OK for their kids.

But negotiations about what sort of rules and discipline you're going to enforce need to take place outside of a child's presence. Go off and make these decisions, then come back and execute them with one voice. If you disagree, discuss it in private, and realize that it's OK to have different attitudes and opinions about things. I mean, for instance, Robin spoiled our boys terribly....

Robin: Oh, that is so not true. And meanwhile, they had you wrapped around their little fingers....

Dr. Phil: But any time they asked for something, we were together on it.

Robin: They'd come to me and say, "Can we do this?" and I'd say, "I'll talk to your father about it, and we'll get back to you."" And I'd just see their faces fall because they already knew they hadn't been able to play us off each other.

Dr. Phil: You know how a mouse can squish himself down and squeeze through the smallest crack in the house? Kids are the same way. You give them a little crack of daylight between the two of you, and they'll work their way in there and separate the two halves. And you absolutely have to recognize that manipulation when it comes, and you've got to close ranks. Now, the question is how do you come to an agreement about what your position is going to be?

Let me tell you, I was in private practice for years with parents who were fighting over how to discipline their kids. One of them would want it to be one way, and the other one would want it the other way — and the truth is, neither of them were within a country mile of what was in the kids' best interest. It's good to realize that a little bit of your approach and a little bit of his approach will usually get you to the right place, which is somewhere in the middle. So you're not as strict as one of you might want, but you're not as lax, either.

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