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The Single File - Being Consistent - When There's Only One

Last summer, while waiting to pass through the Customs check-in at the Calgary Airport, I noticed a preschool-aged child in front of me becoming increasingly, and understandably, frustrated at having to stand still in line. The child’s expressions of frustration through voice and action escalated to a point where the parent, who had been very accommodating and understanding up to that point with the child, decided the behavior had become unacceptable. “Das ist eins …” the traveling mother’s voice rang out.

The child’s unacceptable behavior stopped. Granted, the child’s behavior was completely normal and the reaction on both parts was pretty typical too, but I wonder how many parents all over the world repeat those very same words of warning every day? At the time, my friend and I commented that it was as if the woman didn’t need the actual words at all as her manner and intonation said it all. We didn’t need to be proficient in German to understand that her parental boundaries were being enforced.

Establishing these boundaries for acceptable behavior and introducing and applying consistent discipline can be exhausting and trying enough for parents when there is another parent around to ‘tag-team’ within the struggle for establishing rules within a family. Surely then, the consistency required for this age group can seem a little more draining when enforcing them alone? Sam Rafoss, RSW, a Calgary-based parent educator and mother of three children under six agrees: “Consistency, patience, and energy are needed to do what you need to do as a parent of a preschooler. It’s definitely easier when you have another parent around, you can ask for a break, but when you’re a single parent you have to be a dual parent. I think the best thing to do in these moments is to breathe, think about the situation and what is right for you and your child at that very moment.”

You’re also not the only person in your child’s life that can have a positive impact in terms of establishing or role-modeling good behavior. If you are single but sharing parenting of your child with the other parent, it’s important to try to agree on key values and rules so as not to confuse your child and further complicate the situation. As Sam Rafoss explains, “If you agree ahead of time on issues and stick to your agreement it really helps the child.” Rafoss also recommends selecting a few important or fundamental rules to agree upon and follow so you aren’t creating stress for both yourself, the other parent and the child/children involved, “Don’t put too much in place, it’s overwhelming for everyone. Instead, select three top things to try and agree on.”

Whether you are parenting alone or co-parenting with the other parent, positive caregivers, family friends, or extended family can be both positive and effective in role-modeling and guiding your preschool child in the ways of good behavior. Being a single parent can mean that extended family, close family or friends or caregivers can play more of a significant role in you and your child’s life. But as Rafoss explains this can be a good thing, “Anybody that’s going to add to your child’s life and yours in a positive way is a positive thing … just strive to find the best match for your child that you can.”

There are lots of resources out there if you are looking for extra strategies to help you navigate the phases and behaviors displayed in your child. Sam Rafoss, and other parent educators in the city, offer workshops on Positive Discipline and there are community-based organizations such as Families Matter that offer positive parenting courses and groups for all age groups.

As ever the internet, book store, and library offer numerous explanations and strategies to draw upon that offer a great scope of information. But be careful not to devalue your own parenting skills with the abundance of advice out there. Rafoss stresses that it’s great to be proactive about your child’s well-being, but being confident in your own parenting abilities is important. You no doubt know what is best for your child or what situation is going to trigger certain behaviors. Also, remember that with this particular age group attention is often their main objective. Rafoss recommends that at those times when you really don’t know why your preschooler is acting a certain way or you simply don’t know what to do, you should try a hug. “Sometimes your positive attention is all that they are looking for. There are no consequences to children in this age group other than learning, and your discipline is a form of teaching.”

It can be difficult when there’s no one to off-load to when you get home about just how horrendous your trip to the grocery store with your tired and hungry preschool child just was. If you’ve recently become single, you can also be in the process of re-establishing your own independence and testing out some of your own boundaries. Remember that just like the parent at the airport, the challenges are universal and no parent is perfect. Try to focus on the positive as Rafoss stresses, “You have to be realistic. You try the best you can all the time but if you’re getting it right most of the time, you’re doing pretty good. Pat yourself on the back and remember that everybody is a good parent that is trying to do their best for their child. If you mess up, you mess up. Kids forgive us much faster than we forgive ourselves. Some days you’ll get it right on, other days won’t be so great; it’s trial and error.”

Info for Sam Rafoss’s workshops can be found at: or Families Matter:

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