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How to Help Kids Handle Two Sets of Rules and Expectations

Make peace with the fact that you can't control how your kids act at their other parent's house. Concentrating on disciplining consistently in your own home and keeping clear communication with the other parent and with your kids will create less confusion for everyone.
A family chain made out of paper is cut in half, representing divorce or separation.

When you are co-parenting with your child's other parent, life gets complicated. Whether you're divorced or have never been married, having your child's other parent involved means a whole different set of rules and expectations. This can be confusing for kids. Since they have a natural loyalty to both their mom and dad, they feel torn when parents aren't on the same page. Some kids may take advantage of the differences, getting away with things you don't approve of, but the other parent does. Here are some ideas for helping kids handle two sets of rules and expectations when they split time between two homes.

Communicate Clearly

If your kids are old enough, they will know how you like things done and they will be astute enough to know that if they're done differently at the other house, they may be getting away with things you don't approve of. Make sure that your kids understand your expectations for behavior before they leave your house. However, don't expect perfection. It's hard for kids to stand up to their parents (unless they're misbehaving) and they may not have the courage to confront a problem. The best you can do is talk very openly to them about what they're experiencing at their other home. If they're allowed to break your rules, don't overreact, but don't give up either. Continue to teach your kids about why you have certain rules. Show them the benefits of living life according to a set of principles. You can't control how they live at their other home, so be careful not to punish them for things that didn't happen on your watch.

Don't Shoot the Messenger

When kids live in two homes, it's easy to fall into the habit of letting them pass messages back and forth between you and their other parent. However, don't allow this to continue. Inevitably, stories and conversations will get miscommunicated, which is a recipe for drama. Plus, it puts unnecessary stress on your kids when you get upset about what they've told you. If your kids are telling you about something they've heard, seen or experienced at the other house that upsets you, stay calm while they're around. Then, you can deal with the other adult later. Kids who live between two homes often understand the expectations both parents have and may try to resolve issues themselves. This is a stressful position for kids and if you see it happening, put a stop to it.

Discipline Consistently

You and your child's other parent probably have very different ways of handling discipline. You may be stricter while they may be more lenient. Your kids know the difference and may use it to their advantage. As frustrating as it is, trying to control how your kids behave elsewhere is futile. Even worse, it may cause them to deliberately disrespect your rules when they know they can get away with it. If you and their other parent can't agree, be consistent with discipline in your own home. Your kids need to grow up with rules, boundaries and expectations. It will benefit them as adults. Even though you can't control what they do when they're not with you, they need your consistency. Don't try to dumb down discipline so you can be the "fun one." In the end, the consistency you provide will make them better, more well-rounded people.

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