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Single Parenting: Helping Your Kids Cope

Having a single parent is different for kids. But it can also be the best thing that’s ever happened to them, because they have you.

Regardless of how you got to being a single parent, whether it’s by choice or circumstances, some days you simply feel like you’re in a swamp. But how do your kids feel about it?

“Reassure yourself by understanding that most children are pretty resilient, sometimes surprisingly so,” says Jill Burrett, author of Parenting After Separation.

“Some children are, by nature, slower than others in developing a sense of security and self-confidence. (Others) seem to instinctively sail through life and there are others who are worriers.”

“But be aware of a number of things that need taking into account, even with apparently resilient children,” she adds.

Things to think about

Having a single parent is different for kids, particularly if they’re an only child, or the oldest in the family.

Jill Burrett offers these ways to “tune in” to your children to find out how they’re coping with your ‘singledom’:

• Be willing to stop what you are doing entirely, get down on the floor with them, and give your undivided attention to something quite simple.

• Be spontaneous and silly sometimes so that you’re momentarily laughable, forgetting about dignity for a while!

• Showing that you find your children worth spending time with tells them that they are important to you.

• Take time to explain things to children. Tell them what you expect of them, or you may become frustrated when they won’t (perhaps because they can’t) co-operate or they make a mess of things.

• Try to make them keen to try, and not be afraid of disappointing you.

• Don’t take everything your child says too literally, or feel that you must respond to everything they say or do, because a lot of what they say is impulsive, exuberant or disorganised, or even provocative and attention seeking.

• Remember that children are learning all the time about their emotional character and don’t know what they think and feel a lot of the time, nor can they express themselves very logically or reliably.

Practical tips

The Department of Community Services (DoCS) has this advice:

• Children should be allowed to be children, not little adults. They need time to do the things that are usual in a child’s world, such as being with friends, playing sport, doing homework or just dreaming.

• Your child should know that it’s your job to look after them, not the other way around.

• Make rules and create reasonable boundaries for your child to work within. This will help them feel secure in your home.

• If you’re a newly single parent, your emotional reaction to what’s happened can still be raw. Try to get support from family members and friends rather than talking with your child about what’s worrying you, suggest DoCS.

Believe in yourself and your child

Finally, Burrett says that your children “will do better if you are positive and confident despite the cards you’ve been dealt,” although she stresses you don’t have to get “a perfect score”.

“We can only accept our children (and they us) once we accept ourselves, which means thinking and acting as if we do, setting limits on our children’s demands of us, and not putting our own needs or theirs first all of the time,” she adds.