Raising a child is an enormous job, and parents need all the help they can get. Which is why single parents are modern day heroes. To accomplish alone a task that’s often too much for even two people, is an achievement that should make it into the record books!

Many single parents make it through the day because they’re able to navigate through the tricky issues of traditional parenting, particularly discipline. The following are just some of the discipline issues typically found in a single-parent home, and some tips on how to address them:

Being Both Good Cop and Bad Cop

In traditional two-parent tandems, a parent who disciplines a child is temporarily a “bad guy” while the other parent might be temporarily cast as the “good guy.” Roles switch, of course, according to who is disciplinarian at the moment. However, a single parent who disciplines cannot offer the child a “good guy” in the background. This often intensifies the negativity of single-parenting disciplinary actions. The one parent in the home is now perceived as “mean” or “hateful” when handing out negative consequences or even giving negative feedback.  The most powerful way to avoid the destructive effects of this perception is to become very skilled in the art of guiding and disciplining children. Aim for a ratio of 80-20 (or 90-10 with teens) of pleasant feeling interactions to unpleasant feeling interactions with each child. Think of the morning hour as needing to be 80% pleasant, the homework hour as being 80% pleasant and the bedtime hour as being 80% pleasant. “Pleasant” refers to what is coming out of YOUR mouth. Jokes, compliments, positive feedback and interesting sports scores are considered to be pleasant. Instructions, criticism, correction, threats and negative consequences are considered to be unpleasant . Applying this ratio throughout every day allows children to see their single parent as primarily loving. It helps to buffer the bad feelings that arise out of inevitable moments of discipline. It stops the child of a single parent from hating that parent. (See Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe, for a complete program of healthy, relationship-preserving discipline techniques).

In addition, single parents who are skilled disciplinarians will avoid the most potentially toxic aspect of discipline: anger. When there is only one parent around and that parent is angry, it can be quite overwhelming for a child. Fortunately, a parent need not discipline with anger –  merely with firmness. Firmness goes hand in hand with gentleness and kindness. If kids can be trained at an early age to see discipline as something objective instead of personal, then a child is less likely to attack a single parent.


Can burn-out be a discipline issue? You bet it can! Single parents have a lot on their plate, which is why they can be more prone to temper tantrums than the typical mom and dad. They may also suffer from lack of patience and energy to deal with a child’s misbehavior. If you’re a single parent, it’s important that you are aware of how the demands of everyday living can affect how you discipline your child.

Self-care is the natural response to burn-out; single parents must know when to rest and take things easy. Get some extra help; you may be parenting alone but it doesn’t mean you can’t call friends and relatives to assist from time to time. Hiring a nanny to get some time off wouldn’t be amiss either. While it’s easy to feel guilty when you take some “me time,” remember that you don’t serve your children well when you are always harassed and stressed.

Kids are Resentful of the Time You’re Away

It’s hard to establish your authority in a household when you’re barely around. But much as a single parent would like to be there for their child 24/7, reality is: time for a single parent can be scarce. A single parent usually functions as sole breadwinner, and coming up with ways of keeping food on the table and sending kids to school can be challenge.

But studies have shown that kids from single parent households are more likely to take on responsibilities willingly, if they understand that their parent cannot realistically do it all him or herself. Understanding the unique situation single parents are in can make a child more open to self-discipline. As along as parents can establish rules and guidelines early on, along with routines for independent functioning, children from single parent households are less likely to rebel from lack of attention.

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