As a single parent, you may find yourself feeling guilty about your kids' behavior, especially if it seems to be linked to changes at home. It's important to realize, though, that poor behavior can be our kids' way of telling us that something feels out of control for them. So the next time you're caught off guard by your kids' behavior, take a few moments to ask yourself the following questions:
Are my kids reacting to any recent changes in their lives?
You already know that kids are incredibly perceptive. And as a single parent, you also realize that, unfortunately, the changes your kids have to go through - such as sudden changes in their visitation schedule with the other parent - aren't always within your control. However, it's important for you to be aware that creating a positive home environment is one of your most valuable assets in encouraging your kids' positive behavior and choices. Think about how you can be a consistent presence in your kids' lives, emotionally as well as physically.
- Do what you can to create consistency in the areas you can control.
- Be extra generous with your hugs and affection.
- Acknowledge that this is difficult for your kids and make an effort to be gentle with them.
Am I spending enough one-on-one time with my kids?
Okay, let's take a moment for a reality check. As a single parent, you may not be able to dedicate one-on-one time with each child on a regular basis. However, when you find yourself dealing with repeated behavior issues, try to incorporate some creative ways to build in even small chunks of "Mommy Time" or "Daddy Time" with your kids. You'd be surprised how much even older children crave this! It definitely requires a sacrifice of your time and attention, but it can pay huge dividends in your child's sense of well-being and positive decision making.
- Turn off the TV and spend some time talking and enjoying one another.
- Play a board game and have some fun together.
- Develop a bedtime routine that includes talking and reading together each night.
Am I being consistent in my expectations and my reactions?
As much as you can, try to be consistent with your kids' schedules and routines. Simply knowing what to expect will help your children behave well. In addition, try to be consistent in your reactions to your kids' behaviors. When our reactions depend on our mood, we teach our kids that we're unpredictable. This can add stress to your child and make it more difficult to exhibit self-control. In addition, your effort to be consistent shows respect and honors your relationship.
- Develop a consistent evening routine that includes time for completing and reviewing homework.
- Serve dinner at roughly the same time each night.
- Develop consistent expectations regarding time with friends and extra-curricular activities.
Am I including the kids?
When you can, try to include your kids in your decision-making. So much of their lives is predetermined, particularly for children who are in school all day. When you can, try to give your children opportunities to make their own choices. This might be regarding what clothes they wear, to the food they eat. Having this opportunity to make a choice - even one that might seem insignificant to us - empowers your child to make appropriate choices. With older children, look for opportunities to compromise when you can, realizing that there will be some non-negotiable issues.
- Give your kids choices whenever you can.
- Ask your kids for ideas about what they'd like to do together when you have time for a special outing.
- Let your kids participate in making decisions about meals by planning and preparing dinners together.
Am I taking care of myself?
This is absolutely critical. When we're not taking care of ourselves, we unwittingly send a message to our kids that we're not worthy of their respect. In addition, there is a direct correlation between self-care and the amount of energy and patience we have at our disposal. As a result, when we don't take care of ourselves, we can easily become short-tempered with our kids, which gets reflected back to us in our kids' behaviors and choices.
- After the kids are in bed, make yourself a cup of tea and do nothing for awhile.
- Take a long walk.
- Give yourself a break. Hire a babysitter and get out for a few hours.