Single parents raising happy, healthy children
Children do well when they have parenting that’s nurturing, warm, sensitive, responsive and flexible. This is regardless of how many parents they have in their lives.
And regardless of your family arrangements, you can help your child grow and develop well by:
- thinking about how to meet your child’s needs
- staying calm and managing your own emotions and responses
- getting information that helps you feel confident about parenting
- getting support from family and friends.
If you’re single parenting because of separation or divorce, it’s important to make sure your child knows that both their parents still love them and that the separation isn’t your child’s fault.
Building positive relationships with children as a single parent
A positive relationship with you will help your child feel secure and loved. This can help them cope with any changes in your family situation. A positive relationship will help you feel good too.
Here are ways you can nurture your relationship with your child.
Make the most of everyday moments
Quality time with your child can happen anytime and anywhere. You can talk while cooking or eating dinner together. You can play word games on the bus, have a singalong in the car, or tell funny stories at bedtime.
You can do this in many ways. For example:
- Talk about your child’s favourite things, from sport to music to books to how things work.
- Get your child to show you their favourite app or teach you to play their favourite game.
- Try to get to school performances or sporting events.
Give your child positive attention
Positive attention is responding to your child with warmth and interest. It can be as simple as smiling, laughing or hugging your child as often as you can. You can also show your child that you’re happy to see them first thing in the morning and when they come home from child care, kindergarten or school.
Make one-on-one time
If you have more than one child, try to make some regular time alone with each child. It could be a book before bed with a younger child or a quiet game with an older child when the younger ones are asleep.
Praise is when you tell your child that you like what they’re doing or how they’re behaving. It’s a great way to strengthen your relationship and help your child feel good about themselves. It can also encourage positive behaviour.
Encouraging positive behaviour when you’re a single parent
Clear rules, limits and boundaries will encourage your child to behave in positive ways.
This approach is good for other reasons too. It helps your child feel safe and secure, and it helps you behave consistently towards your child. And when your child feels safe and has consistency from you, it can help them cope with other changes in their lives.
Here are some ideas for encouraging positive behaviour and helping your child feel safe and secure.
Set clear rules
Talk with your child about the family rules and consequences that apply when they’re with you. Family rules are positive statements about how you want to behave towards each other. Rules can help everyone in your family get along better and make your family life more positive and peaceful. It’s OK if your rules are different from those of your child’s other parent.
Try to be consistent
If your family has experienced a separation or other major change, you might feel reluctant to follow through on rules and consequences. You might feel that your child has been through enough. But if you guide your child’s behaviour in a consistent way, it sends the message that some things, like the rules, don’t change. This not only encourages positive behaviour, but it also gives your child the security and consistency they need.
Routines encourage positive behaviour because they make it clear who should do what, when, in what order and how often. They also help family life run smoothly. This can give you more time for doing enjoyable things with your child, which is good for your relationship and your child’s wellbeing.
Tune in to feelings
Your child might be feeling some strong emotions, like frustration, anger, shame or grief. Helping your child understand and manage their emotions can be a way of guiding them towards positive behaviour.
And if your child is sometimes overwhelmed by their emotions, you can help them calm down. Try time-in for toddlers, calming down steps for children, and calming down steps for pre-teens and teenagers.
If you’re single parenting because of a recent separation, you might see some difficult behaviour from your child. For example, some children might have more tantrums or argue more often. If you’re worried about your child’s behaviour, a good first step is speaking to your child’s GP, child and family health nurse or educator.
Being kind to yourself
As a single parent, you might sometimes be hard on yourself. You might compare yourself to other parents and judge yourself harshly. Self-compassion is about being kind to yourself and remembering that you’re doing your best, even when things aren’t going to plan.
Self-compassion supports your mental health and wellbeing. It helps you feel less stressed and anxious so that you’re better able to give your child what they need to grow and develop well.
Self-compassion starts with noticing your feelings. If you’re being hard on yourself, the next step is to remind yourself that raising children is a big job. It’s OK to find it hard and need help. The last step is just to say something kind to yourself, like ‘Other parents find this hard too – I’m not alone’.
If you’re finding it difficult to be kind to yourself, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP. They can refer you to support services.
As a single parent, your positive attitude, strength and determination can give your child an example that lasts for life. You can show your child that you can keep going – even when things are difficult.
Handling your feelings and grown-up issues
Parents in all families can feel sad, angry or upset in times of stress. When this happens, it’s important to let your child know that you love them and that your feelings and reactions are not about them. It’s also good to reassure your child that things will get better, that you have people who can support you, and that you’ll be there for them.
If your child is old enough to understand, try being clear, direct and honest about what’s bothering you, but without too much detail. For example, ‘I had a bad day at work today. I’m in a grumpy mood’. Expressing your feelings helps children learn to express their own.
As a general rule, keep grown-up issues out of discussions with your child. Adult problems – like financial concerns, relationship problems or conflict with your child’s other parent – can make children feel very anxious. It’s best to use your own support network.
Looking after yourself
When you’re focused on looking after a child, you might forget or run out of time to look after yourself. But looking after yourself physically, mentally and emotionally is good for you and good for your children.
An essential part of looking after yourself as a single parent is getting support. It’s a good idea to think about who you can call on for help when you need it, and what types of support the people around you can offer. It might be practical help with day-to-day tasks, emotional support for you, or information and advice.
There are many services that support parents and families. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the demands of caring for your child, a parenting helpline is a great place to start. If you need to talk to someone urgently, call Lifeline on 131 114.