Ironically, children’s misbehavior can, in fact, be a service to parents, since it points out where their expectations are shaky. If they can confront such issues directly and resolve them, they can build a stronger, more secure family for their children to grow in.

It may take several discussions before the adults truly agree. A “united front,” in which people try to appear to agree when they really don’t, won’t work. Kids always know when we are faking and they can spot a “front” a mile away.

A suggestion I frequently give to parents who are struggling with setting and maintaining rules is this: When you find you disagree, tell the children, “We are in disagreement. We are going to our room to figure it out. We’ll call you when we have reached a decision.”

This approach totally changes the usual dynamics in the family. Instead of punishing the child for pushing on the rule, the parents see the pushing as a sign that they haven’t been clear enough. Instead of trying to force a child to go to his or her room as a disciplinary measure, the parents voluntarily go to theirs. This totally shocks the kids and bypasses the inevitable arguments about fairness and control. By removing themselves from a potentially anger-inducing situation, the parents defuse the anger and make space for themselves to get to the bottom of their confusion and disagreement.

If they need more information from their child, they can come out and ask for input, then return to their room to work on it some more. If they can agree, they have succeeded in clarifying family expectations and guidelines for behavior. If they can’t agree, they know that their own issues are the problem and that they have work to do.

Generally, children respect adults who respect themselves enough to be clear about what they will and will not tolerate and who are secure enough in their own roles to invite information and input from their kids. Children need adults in their lives who model this kind of self-respect and negotiation. They need the security that comes from knowing that no matter how much they push at a fair rule, they can count on the adults in their lives to remain clear.