Single Parent Discipline
Dear Mr. Dad: I'm a single parent and
I'm finding it harder and harder to keep my kids in
line. When I was married the two of us could back
each other up. But now that I'm alone I don't seem
to have the energy to take a stand. What can I do
to regain control?
At one time or another, all parents struggle
with discipline--establishing and enforcing limits,
and getting their kids to speak to them
respectfully and do what they're supposed to do.
For single parents, though, who are already
probably pretty exhausted, anything other than
putting food on the table and clothes in the closet
may seem like too much trouble to worry about. But
this is important. So if you feel yourself becoming
more lenient, stricter, or just plain inconsistent,
heres how to stop.
- Be consistent. Not only on a day-to-day
basis right now, but consistent with the way you
and your spouse used to do things before you
became a single parent. In addition, try to work
with your ex to come up with a discipline plan
that's consistent between homes and agree to
back each other up on how you'll enforce limits.
If you can't, you'll have to be firm in telling
your kids that, "in your mom's house you follow
her rules, but in this house, you'll have to
- Establish and enforce reasonable limits. No
child will ever admit it, but the truth is that
he needs to know who's boss and he needs that
person to be you. Setting your expectations too
high, though, can also be a problem, frustrating
your kids and making them feel bad or inadequate
when they can't comply.
- Link consequences directly to the behavior.
"I'm taking away your hammer because you hit me
with it," or "Since you didn't get home by your
curfew, you can't go out with your friends
- Don't worry. Unless the limits you set are
completely insane, your child will not stop
loving you for enforcing them.
- Chose your battles. Some issues--those that
involve health and safety, for example--are
non-negotiable. Others don't really matter. Does
it really make a difference if your child wants
to wear a red sock and an argyle one instead of
a matched pair?
- Give limited choices. "Either you stop
talking to me that way right now or go to your
- Encourage your kids to be independent. "When
parents do too much for children, to 'make up'
for the fact that they have only one parent, the
children don't have a chance to develop
responsibility, initiative, and new skills,"
writes Jane Nelsen, co-author of Positive
Discipline for Single Parents. But don't go too
far here. Your kids still need structure.
- Understand your child's behavior. According
to Nelsen, kids misbehave for one or more of the
- they want attention
- they want to be in control
- they want to get back at you for something you
- they're frustrated and they just want to give
up and be left alone
Trying to punish a child without understanding
why she's doing what she's doing is a little like
taking cough syrup for emphysema: the thing that's
bugging you goes away for a while, but the
underlying problem remains--and keeps getting worse
with time. The most direct way to solve this is to
simply ask your child--in many case she'll tell
you. If she won't tell you or doesn't have the
vocabulary to do so, make an educated guess ("Are
you writing on the walls because you want me to
spend more time with you?").
©2007, Armin Brott
* * *
It's clear that most American children suffer
too much mother and too little father. - Gloria
nationally recognized parenting expert, Armin Brott
is the author of Blueprint
for Men's Health: A guide to a health
Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for
New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First
Dad's Guide to the Toddler
Single Father: A Dad's Guide to Parenting without a
Partner and Father for
Life. He has written on parenting and fatherhood
for the New York Times Magazine, The
Washington Post, Newsweek and dozens of
other periodicals. He also hosts Positive
Parenting, a nationally distributed, weekly
talk show, and lives with his family in Oakland,
California. Visit Armin at www.mrdad.com
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