We’re having problems with my son asking for permission to do things from one of us after the other has already said no. What should we do about this and why is he doing it?

Kids can be quite crafty when they have an agenda, working all the angles like a con man on a Vegas run. It is quite natural for a child to try and test the system and see what he can get away with. In fact, it’s a good illustration of a child’s creativity and intelligence. That being said, if it is something the child does on a consistent basis it may be an indicator of a breach of communication, or a split, between you and your partner.

This split that I’ve described can also be a signifier of a deeper issue, a clash of parenting styles or philosophies. Is one of you stricter than the other when it comes to enforcing boundaries and expectations? A mix of parenting styles is to be expected, after all we are individuals with our own histories and beliefs, but when a deep schism develops kids are prone to drive right through it. A common example of this is the phenomenon sometimes called “Disneyland dad syndrome”. When one parent, historically the father, works longer hours or gets to spend less time with the kids, he may be inclined to just have fun with his children and slacken up on the rules. While understandable this can be very disruptive to the family system and lead to splitting and possible resentment. This problem can be amplified in situations of divorce.

So what should parents do to avoid this situation? Present a united front. Get together with your partner away from the children and agree on some basic boundaries and expectations. Check with your partner when a child claims they have already received permission. Discuss your kids as frequently as possible.

Sometimes the difference in parental beliefs is too deep to resolve on your own. If this is the case seek help from a licensed therapist. Here at The Harris School, our program provides weekly sessions for each family with a Family Consultant, a licensed mental health professional, to help coordinate the message the children are receiving at home and in the classroom.

At the end of the day remember, you are in this together as parents. Children without consistent boundaries may develop many different issues, from anxiety to acting-out. So do your best to communicate, try to put aside your differences, and keep in mind you’re doing it for your kids.