If you’re a separated or divorced parent who’s having difficulty disciplining your children, you aren’t alone. After a marital split, parents often feel guilty about the impact of the break-up on their children. They also feel like they’re competing with the other parent for the kids’ affection.

Both of these things can make it hard to tell your children “no,” even when it’s for their own good. Kids are often smart enough to realize this and make it work to their advantage.

If your spouse was the disciplinarian in the marriage, saying “no” can be even more difficult. Now that you’re parenting them separately, it’s harder to use the old “Wait until your father (or mother) gets home” line. You’re the one who has to lay down the law when your children are with you.

So, how do you instill discipline with a minimum of shouting, temper tantrums and tears? Here are a few tips:

  • Set limits and be consistent with them. For example, if bedtime on nonschool nights is 10:00 p.m., don’t make exceptions. Your kids will learn soon enough that they can’t change your mind.
  • Be prepared to explain your rules. You may think that you shouldn’t have to explain yourself to your children. However, a simple explanation of why that rule is in place can help them see that you’re not just trying to exert your authority or be mean.
  • Don’t react to every request with “no.” Let your kids know that you’re willing to consider their point of view. Maybe one of your kids wants a second laptop to keep at your home. Let them make their case before making a decision. This is good practice for the adult world.

It’s always best when co-parents can have consistent rules across both homes. This gives the kids a sense of security that their parents are still working together to do what’s best for them — even if they may not like the rules and the fact that they can’t play one parent against the other.

If you’re having difficulty disciplining your children because your co-parent has different rules (or doesn’t enforce them), it may be a good idea to provide some detail about expectations and rules that both of you will enforce in your parenting plan.