Chris Pratt gets big props for his acting skills — as well as his parenting style with wife Anna Faris. (Photo: PG/Splash News)
On the heels of his summer blockbuster premiere last weekend, Jurassic Park star Chris Pratt made a good-natured appearance on Conan on Thursday night. And, after joking about his 60-foot dinosaur costars, Conan turned the conversation to Pratt’s 2-year-old son, Jack.
The host kiddingly confessed to not being much of a disciplinarian in his own household, and asked the actor who laid down the law in his own family — Pratt or his wife, actress Anna Faris. “We both try to present a unified front,” was Pratt’s low-key reply.
What makes this response so noteworthy? It’s exactly the strategy experts urge parents to use to help their kids develop — especially during the toddler years, when children are all about testing boundaries.
“Starting at about age 2, kids figure out how to get what they want, even if that means playing one parent off the other,” Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills–based psychotherapist, tells Yahoo Parenting. “They triangulate by pitting mom against dad and seeing what will happen — and if mom and dad don’t support each other, a child might continue to exploit that.”
If parents continue to have different disciplinary styles, a child may start to view one parent as good and the other as bad, psychotherapist Amy Morin, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, tells Yahoo Parenting. “A child will avoid asking the stricter parent for permission to do something.” says Morin. “This can seriously damage the relationship between a parent and a child.”
Not being on the same page in terms of discipline and behavior ground rules undermines both parents’ authority, especially the authority of the parent the child views as more of a pushover. “As the child gets older he may lose respect for the softer parent and think, I don’t have to listen to her or respect her —there’s no repercussion if I don’t,” says Walfish.
Besides sending mixed messages to kids and giving them the chance to polish their manipulation skills, different styles can lead to competition between parents. “They may compete to be the ‘nicest’ or the ‘best’ parent,” says Morin. “Rather than work together to create consistency, they may battle to win favor in the child’s eyes,” which damages their bond.
Of course, presenting a united front doesn’t mean both parents agree in lockstep with every disciplinary decision. “It’s very common in families for one parent to be more dominant when it comes to enforcing rules and the other not as much,” says Walfish.
If that sounds like your household, it’s a good idea to sit down and talk out acceptable discipline strategies you’re both comfortable with, advises Walfish. Also, it’s generally a good idea to always support the other parent’s decision, even if you might have handled it a different way — if, for example, instead of taking away screen time privileges when your child acted out, you would have given him a time-out.
But standing firm shows that it’s the parents who set the ground rules, not the child. “Handing out a consequence that you think is a bit harsh is better than showing your child that his parents can’t agree on discipline,” says Morin.