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Parenting

Discipline - The Single Parent Guide

Discipline - The Single Parent Guide

As a single parent, it can be harder to discipline your children as there is no other adult backing you or re-enforcing your rules. This can become especially hard at times when you may feel emotional and less strong than usual.

People often think that the word “discipline” means “punishment” however it actually means 'teaching'. Knowing this means that any action you take is teaching your child how to behave in the world, which is one of our main roles and aspirations as parents.

I don’t know where to start

  • When ALL of your child’s behaviour seems bad, it can be hard to know where to start!
  • Praise any good behaviour, however minor, very enthusiastically. Every child will do an occasional thing right, no matter how they try to the contrary.
  • Be specific: “Well done! You have made such a good job of that picture, I am very proud of you, that’s absolutely fantastic!”
  • Once you have established praise, choose one behaviour at a time to change. Opt for a behaviour that is fairly easy, such as hanging up their coat when they come in the house, or not making a fuss at bedtime, and heap praise upon them when they get it right.

Do as I do

  • The most effective form of discipline is setting a good example. If you don't obey your own rules, why should your children obey them? If we swear a lot but tell them off for swearing, they will say “well, you swear, so why can’t I?” So we need to have a think about our own behaviour.
  • We don’t have to be saints, but the way we treat other people, our integrity and our respect for authority will be a very strong influence on our children.

Stay calm

  • This is easier said than done, but is one of the key tools in maintaining discipline.
  • Teenagers in particular seem to specialise in knowing how to make us lose our cool. If you can realise that that is what they are trying to do, it might be easier not to do it!
  • If you find it hard to stay calm, just say “I will discuss this with you later” and walk away. If they come after you, keep repeating the phrase and even lock yourself in the loo if necessary!
  • Say to your child “When you can speak to me in a respectful way, then I can listen to what you are saying”. A younger child will respond better to “When you can speak to me in a nice way.”

Look at consequences

  • Children need to realise, quite early on, that their behaviour has consequences.
  • For example, if they have sweets on a Monday, there is no money for sweets for the rest of the week... and make sure you stick to it.
  • Younger children respond surprisingly well to star/sticker charts although don’t make the rewards too big or you will end up severely out of pocket. Read about Reward Charts for Younger Children
  • Older children can have negative consequences explained to them, such as the fact that they will be grounded if they get in later than agreed.
  • Make a written agreement with an older child. Teenagers will often deny that they agreed to be in at a certain time, for instance.

My ex undermines me

  • The children may go to their other parent and come back saying “Dad lets us stay up till 11 o clock” or “Mum lets us have sweets every day”.
  • Do not feel you have to compete, just say “Maybe there is a different rule in Mum’s house”. They will soon get used to the different regimes.
  • It is very tempting and so easy to try and be more popular than your ex by doing anything and everything your children want. But this is called "spoiling" for a good reason. Children need boundaries to keep them safe and to help them grow up into good people, no matter how much they may seem to hate you for setting them.

I feel awful when we have a row

It is very easy to slip into a pattern of feeling guilty towards your child when you have a disagreement. Couples can back each other up and say "you did the right thing". Whenever you feel guilty about setting rules for your children, talk to a trusted friend. Don't try to get rid of your guilty feelings by giving treats to the child you're trying to discipline, or all your efforts and teaching good behaviour will be wasted.
Of course apologies may sometimes be necessary if you have behaved badly (and that “models” good behaviour to them) but if you do it all the time, all they will learn is that you will always give in and they won’t take you seriously or respect you.

Top Tips

  • Praise good behaviour, no matter how minor.
  • Tackle one behaviour at a time; Rome wasn’t built in a day.
  • Remember that your children will copy your behaviour.
  • Exchange ideas with other parents and reassure each other when you feel guilty for doing the right thing.
  • Think about how to teach your child about consequences.
  • Don’t try and compete with your ex. Have your own rules in your own house.
  • No-one is perfect: give yourself credit for getting this far!

"Thank you all for your replies they are very helpful……..She does still have her moments of aggression but the length of time she is violent seems to have shortened and tonight no aggression before bed - amazing! I will post again with any new developments but thanks again for all the advice it's much appreciated. x x"

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