Single Parents: Ten Discipline Solutions for Single Parents





When one is parenting alone, there is no one to help late at night or on a day-to-day basis when discipline situations arise. It can get overwhelming, to say the least.

Following are some typical questions many single parents have asked me regarding discipline situations. You can use this article to help educate yourself so when something happens you will have ready answers in your toolbox.

Here are quick ideas for when you are in the moment of crisis or at a time when you are under tremendous stress and need quick and easy responses to a child’s unproductive or disobedient behavior.

  1.  What do I do when my toddler screams at me and I can’t get him to pick up his toys?

Many times, a toddler may be reacting to the tone of voice or the look on the parent’s face. Brain research shows that stress causes people to talk louder. Parents may also project an angry face when under undue stress. Mad faces and loud voices can scare toddlers. They respond to singing and playing through a situation. Parents calm yourself and then sing a song using a peppy, happy voice. You can make up words and use a familiar tune like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

Brain research also shows that when toddlers and young preschoolers get scared, a lot of the time they turn their fear into something funny. That’s why in some cases the more upset a parent becomes, the more a toddler runs away laughing and giggling. That tends to upset you more, and then the toddler laughs more. It becomes a vicious circle.

As parents, you need to stop and take a deep breath, calm down, and start over, whether trying to get a little head into a shirt or the child into bed. Play the toddler through the situation.

  1.  How do I handle it when my son’s third-grade teacher calls me to tell me he hasn’t turned in his homework for a week? And it was the week he was at his dad’s.

A single parent’s natural response may be to tell the teacher about how the child’s father is making life difficult, not cooperating, etc. But this isn’t wise. Instead, listen to the teacher. Otherwise, you may miss an opportunity to learn about how the child is doing in school and how you can help him.

After the conversation, you can approach your son and ask him what he thinks he can do to get his homework in on time—even when he is at his dad’s. I would not encourage you to confront the dad, because you can’t control what goes on at the other parent’s home, and also because a third-grader needs to take responsibility for his actions. You should give your son some choices on what he thinks a consequence should be next time, and then follow through if it happens again.

  1.  My 14-year-old girl wants to date and I told her, “No, not until you are 16,” but her dad said, “Sure, you can date when you’re at my house.” How do I handle that?

Like we’ve said before, one can’t control what goes on at the other home. A parent can set boundaries and rules for his or her own home. But in addition to setting boundaries, it’s important to explain why a parent has established those particular boundaries. Short and thoughtful explanations when everyone is calm will help. Then your child will be better equipped to evaluate situations while away from you and to keep from overstepping boundaries. Because you want to keep the child safe and care for the child’s welfare, explaining the boundaries will help your child better understand why they are in place.

Remind your teen of your reasons for not allowing dating until a certain age, then tell your daughter you trust her to make wise decisions, but in your home, there will be no dating until the age she is granted permission.

  1.  My 4-year-old wants to know where her mommy is, and I don’t know what to say.

Most preschoolers live in the moment. It’s important to simply give the child an answer for that moment in time. “Mommy is at work” or “Mommy is at her house.” Many times, you may think the child is inquiring about why the other parent isn’t there when really all the child is wondering about is where mommy is.

  1.  Eating dinner at my house is a nightmare with my 4-year-old. He won’t stay at the table with the older two kids and me to eat.

A lot of the time, as single parents you will cave into inappropriate behaviors. Then all of a sudden you realize one or more of your children are out of control. Be encouraged to have a sit-down meeting before dinner, and when everyone is calm. Explain that everyone in the family will be eating at the table, explaining also that when anyone leaves the table, it means that person is through eating for the night.

Encourage the 4-year-old to help by setting the table or doing another helpful activity. This helps the child buy into the overall family dynamics. When your child leaves the table, take that as the cue that the child is finished eating. You can then take the child’s plate, dump the food, and put the plate in the dishwasher. The child is done eating for the night.

If your child screams or gets upset, remain calm and simply explain in a reassuring voice that he or she will have an opportunity to eat in the morning at breakfast. Changing the subject or getting the child involved in an activity such as a warm, relaxing bath with some fun toys will go a long way in changing the child’s behavior.

  1.  My kid is a whirlwind kid. He won’t sit still at school, runs at daycare, fidgets during church. Help!

This might be a child who is using frenzied activity to keep his mind occupied if there is something bothering him, like a recent divorce. You can try engaging your child in active physical activity such as running, shooting hoops, jumping rope, etc.

You can show your child how to journal or draw pictures to keep his mind busy. At church, have backup markers, paper, and pencils! And to have a lot of bubble gum to chew. This will give the child something to do with his mouth.

  1.  My child screams at me all the time and tells me she wants to go live with her dad, but her dad is the one who left. He doesn’t want her living with him.

Many times, kids are worried about the parent they live with abandoning them like they think the other parent did. They will test the limits to make sure you aren’t going to leave them too.

Explain in a calm moment that no matter what, you are there to stay and you are not going to leave the child. You might also explain that the judge decided that for now, your child needs to live with you or stay with you every other week.

A good tip for you is to develop a code of some sort (like pulling on her own ear) and explaining that when his or her voice starts getting loud, her body is saying she needs to be reassured that she is safe with you and you will use the “code” when necessary as a reminder.

  1.  My 15-year-old is sneaking out of the house to see her boyfriend, whom I have forbidden her to see. She won’t listen to me, and now she is skipping school.

There are more issues here than sneaking out of the house and skipping school. More than likely, you haven’t had time to develop consistent boundaries and haven’t been able to become the primary authority in the home. First of all, be encouraged to get your child to a counselor. With the help of a counselor and other trusted individuals who are well versed in teens and single parenting issues, you can talk through these issues, vent, and consider making changes to your parenting style.

Write out the boundaries you want for the home. You might also ask the child what she thinks her consequence should be for each boundary. You can then pray and think about what to say to your child about the issues.

Write out an agreement with the boundaries and consequences. Then have the teen sign the agreement. If the teen oversteps a boundary in the future, you should refer to the agreement and enforce the consequences.

  1.  My three kids fight all the time. How do I bring peace into this house?

  Many times, the kids in single-parent homes are acting out because they don’t feel safe. They may also feel that no one is in charge. A great tip for single parents is to use the Safekeeper* concept. You tell the children that you are there to help keep the children safe. Fighting is not safe. When the children start fighting you shouldn’t ask, “Who started it?” “Why did you hit your brother?” “What are you fighting about now?” Instead, you can say, “Remember, I’m the safekeeper in this home, and fighting is not safe. What could you do that would be safe?” Or “Fighting is not helpful. What could you do that would be helpful?”

You might also need to get three journaling books and if the kids continue to fight, you should separate the kids into different rooms and have them write out their side of the story. This time alone will calm the kids down and give the single parent a moment of peace. The parent doesn’t even have to address the fight after the journaling episode unless he or she just wants to. Remember, though, don’t ask the “who, why, or what” questions.

  1.  I have one child who tattles all the time on his brother. It is driving me crazy. How can I get the tattling to stop?

Here is a terrific tip for children who are into tattling. Say, “Are you telling me this to be helpful or hurtful?” If he says, “Helpful,” you say, “How is telling me this helpful?” If he says, “Hurtful,” you can say, “In our house we don’t hurt people. What could you do that would be helpful?”


All of these answers come from my personal experience of parenting alone and also mentoring and coaching single parents to be successful in their journey of parenting alone. There will be a lot of variables for each problem, and many require longer, more detailed answers. These are merely suggestions, and every single parent will need to determine what is best for his or her own situation. With encouragement from church leaders, continual prayer, guidance from the Holy Spirit, and reading the Bible, single parents can find their way in successfully parenting solo.

*Dr. Becky Bailey, Conscious Discipline.

If you would like to learn more about DC4K, (DivorceCare for Kids) do so at

If you need help parenting alone check out Single & Parenting at

If you would like to expand your single parenting skills, purchase Linda’s book, “The Single Parent Confident and Successful” at (Linda Ranson Jacobs)

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