I’m happy to welcome contributor Kristin Little back to the site for another post. This time she’s writing about discipline, a subject all parents struggle with but is particularly difficult in a two-home family. —Karen

By Kristin Little

Parent’s often struggle with discipline when adjusting to a two home family—the kids have been through a lot, parents are short on energy and it can be difficult parenting solo without backup from another parent. Children won’t ask for discipline, yet it can be very helpful in making children feel safe and secure during a time of change.

Children can get the feeling that while a lot is different, at least some things stay the same—their parents are watching and are still in the driver’s seat. It can help parents feel confident to view discipline as teaching and guiding rather than something “bad” to avoid, this view can also rub off on children’s view and help to engender the idea that they aren’t “bad” for behaving badly and the goal is to “turn it around” and get back to the good stuff.

One issue specific to divorce is that parents often wrestle with the thought that possibly the poor behavior is caused by grief related to the divorce and therefore parents may be reluctant to discipline because of guilt, fear or pain. It helpful to know, that whatever the cause, despite divorce or separation, the job of parenting is the same: teaching your child how to behave in order to be happy with themselves and with others. The following are some ideas that can help guide parents as they develop skills in parenting solo:

  • Plan in advance—having to decide what to address and what consequence to use when you are in the midst of a tantrum difficult and can lead to rash or unenforceable consequences.
  • Think about what motivates your kids that you have control over—screen time, things that take your effort (preparing special food, transporting kids to activities, permission for special outings etc.) and use those things as possibilities to create consequences.
  • Be fair and think small—consequences that make sense are much more likely to be accepted by kids without overwhelming them and make your job that much easier (Saying no to requests for screen time until work is done is much more effective than taking away the computer forever).
  • You may want to create a list of 3-4 behaviors that are most important to address. Write them down and list the consequences you plan to use to in advance. Then tell your children what to expect (you can listen to their feedback but discipline is not up for negotiation)
  • Stay calm—You have the power and don’t need emotion to get the job done. Becoming angry may just add to the chaos and might distract your kids from the lesson at hand.
  • Follow through, follow through, follow through! One of the strongest ways to learn is experience. If your children experience you saying one thing and then doing another, that is the lesson you will teach.
  • Give your kids good feedback. If your child behaves well let them know! If they turn it around using new skills or more quickly than previous that is worth giving some well-deserved praise.
  • Use the calm after the storm to reconnect. When children’s behavior is addressed then is the time to either discuss the underlying emotions or just enjoy a return to the joy of being together.