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Published on April 4, 2018

How to Discipline a Child (The Complete Guide for Different Ages)

How to Discipline a Child (The Complete Guide for Different Ages)

One of the most difficult aspects of parenting is discipline. We want to have a good relationship with our kids. Discipline can make us feel like the bad guy.

Handing out consequences for bad behavior is not fun. It generally makes our kids upset to have consequences for their behavior. Then they get mad at us for being the enforcer of consequences. It is a tough thing to be the disciplinarian of our children. It would be great if a reward system with charts and prizes would be enough to keep kids well behaved and not need discipline at all. Reward systems are great, but they are simply not enough.

Children need age appropriate discipline. It is a simple fact of life and parenting. If you are at a loss for how to discipline your child, I hope to provide some helpful tips for what can work for your child.

I have three kids and all three require different discipline approaches. No child is the same, nor will they respond to discipline the same as the next kid.

Being flexible, fair, consistent in follow through, and loving are the keys to making discipline effective without breaking the bonds of trust with a child. Using discipline that is too harsh or without warning will leave a child having trust broken between parent and child. They need to feel that they are being treated fairly in order for the consequence to not harm the parent and child relationship.

This doesn’t mean all forms of discipline are the same for all children. You need to implement systems that work for each individual child in the household. Discipline is not a one size fits all.

Why discipline is essential

Children need discipline because it will help them now and also in their future as adults. They will develop a sense of right and wrong, with discipline in the home playing a major role in their moral development.

Discipline helps them to understand what is acceptable behavior and what is not. They will also learn to respect authority when discipline is done fairly and comes from the love of a parent. If they can’t learn to respect authority in the home, it will not be favorable to their future.

Will they listen to their boss and respect his or her authority? Much of their development of respect for figures of authority is directly correlated with how they were disciplined in the home.

Was there discipline and correction in the home or were the rules loose and unknown? They will develop a good sense of respect for authority figures when discipline is done correctly in the home with clear rules and consequences in place.

This again means that it is not too harsh (i.e. screaming and yelling), does not involve abuse, and is never done when a parent is filled with anger or rage.

How discipline affects development

There are four major parenting approaches, as outlined in this Psychology Today article:[1]

  1. Authoritarian
  2. Neglectful
  3. Indulgent
  4. Authoritative

As parents, we need to strive to be authoritative parents in order to be effective in disciplining our children in a manner that helps them develop into the best adults they can be.

With authoritative parenting approaches being utilized, a child will come to respect authority and discipline. The article from Psychology Today states the following regarding authoritative parenting methods:

Typically, authoritative parents give their children increasing levels of independence as they mature and this leads to higher leadership potential in the children of authoritative parents. Social skills, self-control, and self-reliance are more highly developed, and these are qualities that make ideal employees, leaders, and life partners.

When authoritative parenting methods are utilized, children will develop respect for authority figures that will carry over into adulthood. What we are teaching our children now in our discipline methods will have them develop not only a sense of morality of what is right and what is wrong, but they will also develop respect for authority figures.

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The other methods of parenting (authoritarian, neglectful, and indulgent) are flawed and come with consequences that affect the child in their adulthood. The goal is to raise children who are prepared to leave the nest someday and be fully prepared to take on the world.

Discipline, and the parenting approach it stems from affects the development of children. Authoritative parenting is setting rules and boundaries that are fair to the child and their age. It is also discipline that helps the child to understand right and wrong behavior and the consequences of either within the home.

How to discipline a child

Whether we are using appropriate and effective discipline methods will determine whether our children will develop a strong sense of morality (that you have taught them) and a respect for authority.

Here are some general guidelines for authoritative parenting in regard to discipline:

  • Rules and the reasoning behind them are clearly explained.
  • Parents will try to help their child when the child is frightened or upset.
  • Respect for the child’s opinion is provided, even if they may differ from the parents’ opinions.
  • The child is encouraged to talk about his or her feelings.
  • Consequences for breaking rules are clear to the child before rules are ever broken.
  • Communications and conversations with the child take place after rules are broken to help the child and parent process what took place. This conversation is done with empathy on the part of the parent.
  • Children are provided with discipline when they break rules. This is done in a consistent manner (i.e. if their smart phone is revoked as a consequence of not having their bedroom clean, then it is also revoked the next day if that same rule is broken).
  • Parents discuss with their children the consequences of their good and bad behavior, so there is a clear understanding of consequences and discipline in the home.
  • Parents follow through with discipline and are not lax about allowing rules to be broken without consequences. Rules being broken means that there are consequences. Not just sometimes, but always.
  • Consequences do not involve harsh punishments, shaming, screaming, yelling, name calling, or withholding of love.
  • Consequences are followed by healing words of encouragement and love to assure the child that even though they are being disciplined they are still very much loved. Example, after a time out period the parent would hug their child and tell them they love them unconditionally.
  • Parents encourage children to be independent within boundaries.
  • The reasons for the rules are clearly emphasized when discipline takes place so that the child clearly understands the “why” of their consequence. For example, when a child runs into the street after their ball, they are taken inside for a time out and it is explained that they are not allowed to go into the street because there are cars driving on the street making it very dangerous for them (it is for their own safety).

Them knowing the house rules and boundaries along with the subsequent consequences are the first components to having a good discipline system in place.

The next major factor to consider are the consequences. Are the consequences for their behavior fair? Is the consequence age appropriate for the child? Below are some general guidelines for age appropriate discipline methods.

Discipline at different ages

Discipline methods need to change as a child ages. What worked for your child at age 2 may not be effective at age 7. You need to recognize when your discipline methods are no longer effective and need modification.

Understanding that age plays a role in the type of discipline that is most effective is important. Below are some age categories and discipline methods that are effective for these age groups:

Babies

Babies generally don’t need discipline. They are just learning about the world and they don’t have a grasp on good versus bad behavior. That will come soon enough when they are toddlers. However, this doesn’t mean that babies don’t do things that require consequences. For example, we don’t want our 9 month old crawling over to a light socket and putting their finger in it.

The key is to create a safe environment so that the baby can explore their world in a safe manner. If they develop behaviors such as hitting or touching things they shouldn’t, they can be redirected.

Redirect babies’ attention

Provide them with something safe to touch and play with. Teaching them the difference between “yes touch” and “no touch” is essential. If they can’t abide by the “no touch” for a particular item, such as pulling the cat’s hair, then remove the item from their view and ability to touch. A 9 month old is not likely to understand the concept of a time out.

Parenting.com has some helpful tips on handling a baby’s behavior outside of the realm of punishment. They state the following about discipline and babies:[2]

Discipline begins with trust. The child who trusts his mom or dad to give him food and comfort when he needs it will also trust them when they say, “Don’t touch!”

The key with babies is that they need love, comfort, and redirection rather than punishment such as time outs. They are just developing their sense of self and discovering the world around them. Soon enough they will be toddlers and consequences can become part of the routine. Until then, it’s the parents’ job to keep baby away from unsafe situations and things.

The parent can distract or redirect their baby when behavior needs to be modified.

For example, when I began brushing my kids’ teeth when they first got their new teeth as babies, they did not like to have a toothbrush in their mouth. I had one child that would kick, scream, and cry when she saw the toothbrush.

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I developed a silly song to make teeth brushing entertaining and distract her from what was happening. I made silly faces and sang the song very excitedly every time it came to brushing their teeth, so that she was distracted by my song and dance and I could more easily brush her teeth without a fit. It worked like a charm and within a couple of weeks, she was excited to see the toothbrush because it meant I would be the entertainment.

Find creative ways to distract your child or engage them with other activities to diffuse crying because they don’t want anything that is unsafe for them. They don’t need punishment for grabbing the TV remote control. Instead the parent simply needs to replace the remote with a toy and make the toy appear far more interesting and fun than a boring remote control.

Toddlers (around 1 to 2 year old)

Redirection of behavior is also helpful for toddlers. You will find yourself saying “no-no” repeatedly when you have a toddler. You have to decide which behaviors are stepping over the line and require consequences. Others beahviors can simply be redirected much like you would do with them in the baby phase.

Simple verbal corrections are helpful at this stage. When the verbal corrections fail, then you need to take action. Sometimes toddlers are just testing the waters to see what they can get away with.

Know your limits, so you recognize when the behavior has gone too far and verbal correction simply isn’t enough. That way you can move onto other methods such as time outs, taking away toys, or removing privileges (simple things for toddlers like no ice cream).

Toddler melt downs and tantrums are the norm. If you have a child who doesn’t go through a temper tantrum phase that involves yelling and hitting, then you are lucky and your child is a unicorn. For the rest of us, we need a huge dose of patience, deep breathing, and a calmness of our mind and emotions when the temper tantrums start.

Avoid triggers that cause tantrums

Try to avoid triggers that may cause the tantrums to occur (like skipping their naptime or forgetting their snacks and you end up with an “hangry toddler”). When you are in public, remove yourself from the public situation.

More than once I have left the store with a child in my arms who was in full tantrum mode. I take them to the car and we wait out the tantrum. I don’t yell or punish in any way.

Quiet times

The best consequences for tantrums of toddlers are quiet times. This is different than a time out. The time out is usually the same number of minutes as that of the child’s age (if the child is 3 then they get a 3 minute time out). Tantrums require additional time for the child to calm themselves and recover.

I always placed my children in their rooms on their bed and told them I would come get them after they calmed down and were quiet for a while. Sometimes, they would fall asleep because the tantrum was related to them being overtired. Other times they would come out of the room and say “I calm” in their toddler voice after they had recovered from their fit.

Usually I would go to their room after all was quiet and I knew that they calmed down and the temper tantrum was over. We would talk about things and then I would ask them to come rejoin the family now that they had calmed and were committed to good behavior.

The key with toddlers is to remain calm. You need to be their rock, not the one losing it when they lose it. Empowering Parents discusses some more helpful tips on dealing with toddler tantrums including the following:[3]

Be clear and firm with your child. They want to see that you’re in charge and that somebody is in control. Keep your center and be very firm. You can say, “We are not staying here. We can come back when you can pull yourself together. We are leaving now.”

Time outs can begin during the toddler phase. A special chair designated as the time out chair is helpful for making this consequence method consistent and understandable for the toddler. You can use a timer that is designated as the “time out” timer.

A general guideline for time out length is that the number of years of the child’s age is the same amount of minutes for the time out (i.e. 2 minutes for a 2-year old, 3 minutes for a 3-year old, etc.). If the child keeps getting up from the timeout chair, then the parent needs to keep taking the child back to their time out chair until their time out is complete.

I instituted a policy in our home that if they got up from time out then their time out would start over. They learned from a very early age not to get out of time out until the timer went off.

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It can be a battle of the wills having to keep putting a toddler back in the chair over and over again. But doing so will teach them that you will not give up and they are required to finish the entire time out.

Eventually they will catch on and realize that the time out will go much quicker if they simply go to the chair and do the time. It may take dozens of time outs to get to that realization, but it will happen eventually.

If it results in an all out temper tantrum, then use the tantrum policy and remove the child to a safe area, such as their bedroom or crib until the temper subsides and they are calm once again.

There are some kids that do well with a time out when they can sit with Mom or Dad. They need their parent there as it is a reassurance that they are still loved even though they are being disciplined. That works too as long as they are being removed from their playtime and toys, the consequence of time out in their chair with Mom or Dad near them is fine.

Removal of toys

The policy for toddler toy removal is that the toy is taken away if it is used to harm others or two or more children are fighting over the toy.

Toy time out is what we call it in our home. The toy went on top of a cabinet that the children could not reach. Be sure to put these toys for time out in a place that the children will not try to climb to retrieve and get hurt in the process.

Our cabinets are bolted to the walls because of this safety issue. My kids were all climbers and you don’t know if your child is a climber until you catch them doing it and by then it can be too late to avoid a horrible accident.

Be sure to differentiate between normal toddler behavior and direct disobedience. I had one toddler use coloring crayons to draw all over the walls. My daughter who is two years older than her twin brothers pointed out that they didn’t have any more coloring pages left so he had to draw on the walls. Sure enough, I had told them to go into the kitchen and color. I had never told my toddlers to not draw on the walls.

Rather than scolding him and sending him to time out, I had him helped me clean the walls and we talked about how color crayons are only for paper. I let him know that next time there would be more serious consequences if he wrote on the wall with crayons.

Toddlers do strange things, so be prepared for your reaction (or the need to hold off on reacting to your toddler’s antics) because sometimes a bean up the nose is just a toddler experimenting and not them trying to be disobedient or act out in any way badly.

Preschoolers (around 2 to 3 year old)

Time outs are also useful for preschool aged children. The preschool age is when you can begin to see that some discipline methods work for one child but they may not work for another.

I have one child that will laugh at me and say “I don’t care about time out, it doesn’t bother me” and I know he means it. Therefore the time outs are no longer used for him. Instead we take away favored toys.

If you child is obsessed with their fire engine truck that they have to take to the store, to church, and to preschool, you then know it will be effective in taking away this toy for disciplinary measure if needed. For our kids it depends on the severity of the action. For hitting that caused injury to a sibling they will lose that toy for an entire day.

You don’t want the child to ever feel defeated, so don’t threaten to throw it away because that is far too harsh. Instead a time out for that toy for a designated amount of time is appropriate.

Thorough explanation and discussion of the behaviors

It is important at this phase to be more thorough on explanation and discussion of the behavior and consequences. You want your children to understand why you are taking away their favorite toy or giving them a time out. You also want them to feel a sense of growing right and wrong in their heart and mind.

When they understand that their name calling or hitting their siblings results in hurt feelings and physical hurt, they can begin to empathize with their siblings pain and hurt. They will feel bad for their actions.

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Maybe not immediately, but as they grow and you are consistent with both the consequences and the calm, empathetic conversations about their actions and the resulting consequences, you will find that they will develop a greater sense of remorse and empathy.

The goal is not to simply change their behavior. It is to change their heart and motivations. You want your children to desire to get along with others and to abide by the rules. They will when they understand the reasons for those rules, the clear consequences, and their emotions are involved in the process.

Discipline is guiding their hearts as much as it is guiding their actions.

School-age children

When children reach school age, then generally the era of when time outs come to a halt. However, there are times when quiet time in their room is needed. For attitude adjustments and mood swings, room time for the child to calm themselves away from others (and electronics) is often very helpful.

Taking away screen time

This is the age where electronics are becoming more important. Whether it is a personal tablet, smart phone, or television, school age children are increasingly more attached to these items. It becomes an easy source for effective discipline. They lose time on their electronic device as a consequence for rules being broken.

No child specialist has yet to say that depriving a child of screen time will be harmful to them. If anything just the contrary has been proven. Therefore taking away screen time as a consequence of their behaviors can be beneficial to them in more ways than one.

Be sure the time frame is fair with the severity of the behavior. If they didn’t make their bed that morning, maybe an hour restriction is fine. For purposefully damaging their siblings property or harming another child, the device can be restricted for a full day or more, depending on the severity of their behavior.

Again, it is of utmost importance for the child to understand the “why” of the rules, so they understand why consequences are necessary when rules are broken.

Removal or restriction of privileges

This is also effective for school aged children. Understand your child and their desires to make this effective. For example, you may have a child that likes to go ride their bike around with neighborhood kids after school. They may have gotten in trouble at school for something that you deemed worthy of restricting their after school bike riding for a day or two.

Make sure that your child understands why they are being dealt the consequence and try to make the time productive- such as writing an apology to the teacher or child they offended at school.

School age is when friends become increasingly more important to kids. Socialization is an important part of development. However, when misbehavior is severe enough, then time with friends can be restricted. “Grounding” is what my parents called it.

When children are of young school age, it can be simply not allowing them to attend an upcoming friend’s birthday party. Again, make sure that your punishment is not overly harsh. If they believe you are overly harsh and severe in your punishments, then resentments will form.

Talk with your school aged children about what punishments they deem fair or unfair and for what violations specifically. Having these open conversations can help you develop fair discipline methods that are also effective for your specific child.

Be a flexible parent

Determining what kind of punishment is effective for your child is not a one and done policy. What is effective this week may not be an effective consequence for their behavior the next week. Be prepared for conversations with your growing child so that you can understand one another in this process of discipline and rule following.

The clearer you can make the process for the child, the more likely you are to make things fair. Involving them in conversations about what they believe are fair consequences is also effective in setting up disciplinary measures for their behaviors.

Give them love and reassurance of that love following discipline because above all the goal is showing them love through the good and bad, so they feel that they are loved unconditionally.

Discipline is part of loving that child. If you love your child, you want them to develop into emotionally healthy adults and discipline is a part of that process.

Featured photo credit: Bing via bing.com

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Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Published on December 14, 2018

14 Helpful Tips for Single Parents: How to Stay Sane While Doing it All

14 Helpful Tips for Single Parents: How to Stay Sane While Doing it All

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 27% of children under the age of 18 are living with a single parent.[1] That’s over 1/4th of the U.S. population.There is a common misconception that children who grow up in single parent homes are not as successful as children living in two-parent homes.

One crucial detail that was often left out of studies when comparing single and two-parent homes was the stability of the household. There is a correlation between family structure and family stability, but this study shows that children who grow up in stable single-parent homes do as well as those in married households in terms of academic abilities and behavior.

But providing stability is easier said than done. With only one adult to act as a parent, some tasks are inherently more challenging. However, there are a few helpful things you can do to make the parenting journey a little easier for yourself and stay sane while doing it.

1. Don’t Neglect Self-Care

Before anything else can be done, you must be caring for your own needs adequately. Only when you are feeling well-rested and healthy can you be at your best for your children.

Many parents tend to put their kids’ needs first and their owns last, but that will result in a never-ending cycle of exhaustion and feelings of inadequacy. Make time to eat regularly and healthfully, get plenty of rest, and squeeze in exercise whenever you can. Even a short walk around the neighborhood will help your body get much-needed movement and fresh air.

Your children depend on you, and it’s up to you to make sure that you are well-equipped and ready to take on that responsibility.

2. Join Forces with Other Single Parents

At times, it may seem like you’re the only person who knows what it’s like to be a single parent. However, the statistics say that there are many others who know exactly what you’re going through.

Find single parents locally, through your kid’s school, extracurricular activities, or even an app. There are also numerous online communities that can offer support and advice, through Facebook or sites like Single Mom Nation.

Although single moms make up the majority of single parents, there are more than 2.6 million single dads in the U.S. A great way to connect is through Meetup. Other single parents will more than happy to arrange babysitting swaps, playdates, and carpools.

Join forces in order to form mutually beneficial relationships.

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3. Build a Community

In addition to finding support with other single parents, also build a community comprised of families of all different types. Rather than focus solely on the single parent aspect of your identity, look for parents and kids who share other things in common.

Join a playgroup, get plugged in at a church, or get to know the parents of the kids involved in the same extracurricular activities. Having a community of a variety of people and families will bring diversity and excitement into your and your kids’ lives.

4. Accept Help

Don’t try to be a superhero and do it all yourself. There are probably people in your life who care about you and your kids and want to help you. Let them know what types of things would be most appreciated, whether it’s bringing meals once a week, helping with rides to school, or giving you time to yourself.

There is no shame in asking for help and accepting assistance from loved ones. You will not be perceived as weak or incompetent. You are being a good parent by being resourceful and allowing others to give you a much-needed break.

5. Get Creative with Childcare

Raising a child on a single income is a challenge, with the high cost of daycares, nannies, and other conventional childcare services. More affordable options are possible if you go a less traditional route.

If you have space and live in a college town, offer a college student housing in exchange for regular childcare. Or swap kids with other single parents so that your kids have friends to play with while the parents get time to themselves.

When I was younger, my parents had a group of five family friends, and all of the children would rotate to a different house each day of the week, during the summer months. The kids would have a great time playing with each other, and the parents’ job becomes a lot easier. That’s what you would call a win-win situation.

6. Plan Ahead for Emergencies

As a single parent, a backup plan or two is a must in emergency situations. Make a list of people you know you can call in a moment’s notice. There will be times in which you need help, and it’s important to know ahead of time who you can rely on.

Look into whether or not your area offers emergency babysitting services or a drop-in daycare. Knowing who will be able to care for your child in the event of an emergency can relieve one potential source of anxiety in stressful situations.

7. Create a Routine

Routines are crucial for young children because knowing what to expect gives them a semblance of control. This is even more important when in a single parent home.

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If the child travels between homes or has multiple caretakers, life can seem extremely chaotic and unpredictable. Establish a routine and schedule for your child as much as possible. This can include bedtime, before/after school, chores, meal times, and even a weekend routine.

Having a routine does not mean things cannot change. It is merely a default schedule to fall back on when no additional events or activities are going on. When your children know what to expect, they will be less resistant because they know what to expect, and days will run much more smoothly.

8. Be Consistent with Rules and Discipline

If your child has multiple caretakers, such as another parent, grandparent, or babysitter, communicate clearly on how discipline will be handled. Talk to your ex, if you are sharing custody, as well as any other caretakers about the rules and the agreed-upon approach to discipline.

When a child realizes that certain rules can be bent with certain people, he/she will use it to their advantage, causing additional issues with limits, behavior, and discipline down the road.

This article may help you to discipline your child better:

How to Discipline a Child (The Complete Guide for Different Ages)

9. Stay Positive

Everyone has heard the saying, “Mind over matter.” But there really is so much power behind your mentality. It can change your perspective and make a difficult situation so much better.

Your kids will be able to detect even the smallest shift in your attitude. When the responsibilities of motherhood are overwhelming, stay focused on the positive things in your life, such as your friends and family. This will produce a much more stable home environment.

Maintain your sense of humor and don’t be afraid to be silly. Look towards the future and the great things that are still to come for you and your family. Rediscover and redefine your family values.

10. Move Past the Guilt

In a single parent home, it is impossible to act as both parents, regardless of how hard you try. Let go of the things that you cannot do as a single parent, and instead, think of the great things you ARE able to provide for your children.

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Leave behind the notion that life would be easier or better with two parents. This is simply not true. There is a multitude of pros and cons to all family dynamics, and the one you are providing for your kids now is the one that they need.

Don’t get bogged down by guilt or regret. Take control of your life and be the best parent you can by being present and engaged with them on a daily basis.

11. Answer Questions Honestly

Your kids may have questions about why their home situation is different from many of their friends. When asked, don’t sugarcoat the situation or give them an answer that is not accurate.

Depending on their age, take this opportunity to explain the truth of what happened and how the current circumstances came about. Not all families have two parents, whether that is due to divorce, death, or whatever else life brings.

Don’t give more detail than necessary or talk badly about the other parent. But strive to be truthful and honest. Your children will benefit more from your candor than a made-up story.

12. Treat Kids Like Kids

In the absence of a partner, it can be tempting to rely on your children for comfort, companionship, or sympathy. But your kids are not equipped to play this role for you.

There are many details within an adult relationship that children are not able to understand or process, and it will only cause confusion and resentment.

Do not take out your anger on your kids. Separate your emotional needs from your role as a mother. If you find yourself depending on your kids too much, look for adult friends or family members that you can talk to about your issues.

13. Find Role Models

Find positive role models of the opposite sex for your child. It’s crucial that your child does not form negative associations with an entire gender of people.

Find close friends or family members that would be willing to spend one-on-one time with your kids. Encourage them to form meaningful relationships with people that you trust and that they can look up to.

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Role models can make a huge difference in the path that a child decides to take, so be intentional about the ones that you put in your kids’ lives.

14. Be Affectionate and Give Praise

Your children need your affection and praise on a daily basis. Engage with your kids as often as possible by playing with them, going on outings, and encouraging open dialogue.

Affirm them in the things that they are doing well, no matter how small. Praise their efforts, rather than their achievements. This will inspire them to continue to put forth hard work and not give up when success is not achieved.

Rather than spending money on gifts, spend time and effort in making lasting memories.

Final Thoughts

Being a single parent is a challenging responsibility to take on. Without the help of a partner to fall back on, single parents have a lot more to take on.

However, studies show that growing up in a single parent home does not have a negative effect on achievement in school. As long as the family is a stable and safe environment, kids are able to excel and do well in life.

Use these tips in order to be a reliable and capable parent for your kids, while maintaining your own well-being and sanity.

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Featured photo credit: Bruno Nascimento via unsplash.com

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