Teachers often use teaching methods their own teachers used on them, sports coaches rely on outdated training from their own performance years, and parents discipline their children using techniques their parents used on them. Your wife may have been raised in a talk-it-out home while you suffered with The Paddle. What can you two do so you present a united front?

Parenting is Teamwork

As with all aspects of parenting, you and your wife want to present yourselves to your children as thoughtful, knowledgeable adults who work as a team. Any disagreements — about anything, from finances to discipline — should be done quietly out of view and earshot of your kids.

While most parents and adults acting in loco parentis may have minor disagreements over disciplinary choices, some couples have to deal with extremes:

  • Your wife prefers a permissive, less restrictive approach, thinking the children will naturally experiment and discover some harsh life lessons on their own (hot stoves, strange dogs, heavy objects on high shelves, and the like)
  • You prefer to protect your child by alerting them, perhaps almost constantly, to apparent dangers and physically punishing them for infractions (using “No” almost without pause, spanking, sending them to their bedrooms without nourishment, forcing them to stand in corners, compelling them to move sandpiles, and similar physical consequences)

Experts at Positive Parenting recommend rehearsal, by tossing out scenarios to each other and determining how you would each handle them. Then, you determine a middle path, by looking at the discipline technique from each other’s view. Poke holes in it (respectfully), talk up the benefits of your own solution, and continue until you both find a reasonable and responsible answer.

Another excellent piece of advice from the same experts when you and your wife disagree in front of your kids:

  • Let the stricter parent take the lead and receive the support of the more permissive parent until the misbehavior dissipates
  • As the inappropriate behaviors wind down, the disciplinarian winds down, too, and stops overcompensating for the lenient parent

Discipline and Virginia Law

While Virginia law gives parents plenty of wiggle room regarding disciplinary methods for their own children, the law is very clear on professional caregivers. In keeping with modern parenting and pedagogical methods, Code of Virginia 22VAC40-141-150 and § 22.1-279.1 prohibit corporal punishment in foster homes and school settings:

  • There shall be no physical punishment, rough play or severe disciplinary action administered to the body such as, but not limited to, spanking, striking or hitting with a part of the body or an implement, pinching, pulling or roughly handling a child, shaking a child, forcing a child to assume an uncomfortable position (e.g., standing on one foot, keeping arms raised above or horizontal to the body), restraining to restrict movement through binding or tying, enclosing in a confined space, or using exercise as punishment
  • No teacher, principal or other person employed by a school board or employed in a school operated by the Commonwealth shall subject a student to corporal punishment.

Philosophically, a parent who ignores the Commonwealth’s expectations of trained, skilled professionals could have a difficult time defending that position to a spouse who is more progressive, enlightened, and child-centered.

You may view corporal punishment as a great way to stop a behavior, but that is true only temporarily and generally builds the wrong connections with the child:

  • Getting caught hurts
  • My parents hurt me because they don’t like me
  • Hitting solves problems
  • Adults are allowed to hurt kids

Children almost never rationally conclude that their behavior choices — running out into the street to retrieve an errant kickball, for example — could lead to dire consequences more serious than spankings.

Once you have spanked your kid, no amount of “reasoning” will get through to the suffering child. Your words are meaningless, replaced by power and fear.

Going Too Far with Corporal Punishment

While every state allows parents some latitude to use corporal punishment to discipline a child, a Virginia parent can take the “discipline” too far and face charges of child abuse. To avoid charges of domestic violence (which can be leveled by your spouse, teachers, daycare workers, or friends’ parents), make certain never to:

  • Strike a child in anger; calm yourself and explain to your child how you can justify hitting your own child
  • Do more than cause emotional distress or mild physical discomfort
  • Injure your child
  • Use a weapon (paddle, ruler, switch, car antenna, wooden spoon, and so on — use only your hand)
  • Use an amount of force a reasonable person would find unreasonable — if your own hand hurts badly from your “discipline,” you went too far
  • Invent reasons to strike your child

If you are accused of child abuse due to your disciplinary techniques, contact a family law attorney immediately. Consequences can be serious, career-ending, and financially ruinous.

The Firm For Men provides practical, helpful guidance to Virginia’s men in all aspects of family law. Contact us today or telephone our offices at (757) 383-9184 to let us help you. From fighting false charges of child abuse to protecting retirement accounts after divorce, we are on your side.