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Avoid These Common Discipline Mistakes Divorced or Separated Parents Often Make


Published on October 16th, 2020

No matter the status of your relationship, co-parenting can be a challenge. You rely on the other parent to reinforce your parenting style, and not doing so can lead to disagreements. And when two people get divorced, co-parenting, and differing parenting styles in general, is often a constant source of conflict. In this blog, we’re discussing the most common discipline mistakes that divorced or separated parents make and how they can potentially be avoided.

Common Discipline Mistakes to Avoid

Lying About Your Child’s Behavior

Frequently, divorced parents feel like it’s a competition to have the “better-behaved child.” They insist that their child is always well-behaved at their house or even conspire with their child against the other parent. They may say, “Oh, it’s okay. We won’t tell Mom/Dad about that.”

However, if untrue, claiming that your child never gets in trouble at your house or school while on your watch is one of the common discipline mistakes that won’t help anyone. Your priority should always be your child – regardless of what happens with your former spouse or partner with whom you share the child. So if your child is experiencing behavioral issues, you will want to be able to talk openly about the behavior that you’re seeing with the other parent so you can both take steps to correct it.

Refusing to Instill Discipline or Structure

Divorce or separation is a difficult transition for kids, and you will almost certainly feel guilt or pain for putting your child through such a transition. As a result, you may choose to relax the rules or discipline structure. Your instinct may be to not discipline your child during a time that’s already difficult.

However, refusing to instill discipline or structure during this time can teach your child to have a victim mentality. You should acknowledge that your child may be dealing with mixed emotions and it is okay to validate those feelings but navigating difficult emotions should never be an excuse for bad behavior. Correct your child’s behavior and provide ways to cope with uncomfortable emotions.

Being Inconsistent with Discipline

Divorced or parents separating is stressful for everyone involved, so sometimes you may let seemingly small elements of discipline go because you know the circumstances are challenging for your child(ren). Or in the alternative, sometimes the increased responsibilities with being a single parent can cause issues with staying consistent regarding discipline in general. This is another one of the common discipline mistakes to avoid. Know that the best thing you can do for your child is to be clear and consistent with discipline. Consistency is helpful for everyone as it provides structure and sets expectations, and it can also help your child feel safe and secure as he/she adjusts to stressful situations. Talk with the other parent to establish ground rules for your child, as cohesiveness and consistency in and between the homes will be the best for your child as well as minimize conflict with the other parent.

Competing to Be the Favorite Parent

Most parents want to be the “good or favorite parent” after divorce or splitting up with the other parent. Too many parents bend the rules so that their child will pick them over the other parent – like giving the child extra screen time or buying toys to compete for the child’s affection.

Unfortunately, competing to be the favorite parent only jeopardizes your child’s well-being. Your child will vote for the parent that has the least number of rules and spoils him or her most. Ultimately that isn’t in the child’s best interests in the long-term, even if it’s fun right now.

Talking Negatively About the Other Parent

If you’re getting divorced or are separating from the other parent of your child, you may have some degree of ill will towards your former spouse or partner. However, it’s time that you stop thinking about them as your ex (or soon-to-be-ex). He or she is your co-parent and they will be in your life forever because you share a child.

Additionally, a child will routinely pit one parent against the other. If you say no to something, they may remind you of the last time the other parent allowed them to do it. Instead of being critical or passing judgment on the other parent, remind your child that there may be different rules between the two households and that’s okay. You’re allowed to do things differently. Talking negatively about their mom or dad will only harm your relationship with your child, which isn’t what you want. Keep it as positive as possible between you, your child, and your co-parent.

You don’t have to see eye-to-eye with your former partner, but remaining open to working with him/her can help you address and solve any problems that may arise with your child.

Click here to read more about coping strategies to help with children and divorce.


If you find that you and the other parent are not on the same page and it’s causing stress to you or your child, speak with a family law attorney. The Chicago family law attorneys at Davis Friedman have been leaders in the industry since 1946. We’re here to help you navigate this difficult time. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you with your matter.


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