How to discipline your kids when you’re exhausted

discipline your kids

The longer I do this job, the more I’m convinced that being a parent is the world’s toughest gig; most especially if you have to discipline your kids when you’re exhausted.

For those with a partner and a strong support system, sharing the parenting load is easier. However, for single parents, handling everything alone, especially tough tasks like discipline and setting boundaries, is incredibly challenging. It often feels overwhelming, and for many, including myself, it seems like an impossible task.

During moments of chaos, whether it’s arguing with a 3-year-old about toast shapes or having a tough talk with a teenager about their grievances, it can feel overwhelming. Finding the motivation to respond calmly and handle discipline can seem like an impossible task.

I am Ariella Lew, a highly qualified paediatric nurse and Director of Kids on Track Consultancy. My expertise is in parenting, behaviour and sleep and toilet training. In this article I will teach you how to discipline your kids how flippin’ tired you. And, I will start with my top secret, which is:

Your energy is better spent planning your discipline in advance rather than in the moment. This way you feel like you have something concrete to turn to and a back-up system ready to go.”

Now, let’s dig a little deeper. Here are seven surefire ways to discipline your kids when you’re exhausted.

Further reading: 10 Superfood supplements to help busy mums get through the day.

How to discipline your kids when you’re exhausted

1. Deal breaker rules and consequences

Once your kids are asleep tonight, sit down with a glass of wine and a blank piece of paper. Write down the five non-negotiable rules for anyone living in your house. This may have to do with manners, fighting or jumping on furniture, but there shouldn’t be more than five.

Then there should be a consequence for each one that is immediate and related to what they have done. For example, if they have thrown a toy – that toy is removed for at least 48 hours. If they have hit their sibling, they can’t be around them for a period of time (maybe 15 minutes).

One of the biggest stresses when trying to discipline your kids is caused by not thinking clearly at the moment and not being able to think of consequences.

If you can turn this list of rules and consequences into a visual chart on the fridge, this part of parenting becomes predictable and hopefully easier.

2. Have realistic expectations of your children

Not all kids are wired similarly. While your neighbour’s kid already knows how to sweep the floor at five- years old, it might not be the same for yours. And that is completely fine. 

Understand that kids, like adults, have their limits, and expecting perfection may lead to frustration. 

I know it’s challenging to discipline your kids when you’re exhausted. But do you know what happens when you expect too much from your children? They get pressured and end up not being able to finish the task.

You of all people know your children best – their strengths and what they are capable of. Start by aligning discipline with realistic developmental milestones. 

Set achievable goals and assign age-appropriate chores. If you have a toddler, you can start teaching them how to put their toys away or wipe up spills by themselves.

3. The witching hour

Almost every parent I speak to tells me that the most difficult times of the day are getting their children through the morning and evening routine. You are trying to cram a lot into a short period of time and if you have more than one child, it can be chaotic.

If your children are in childcare or school, they are each likely to be able to do some of these tasks themselves. 

One idea to make these times of day easier is to have a checklist for each child of five things that they need to do in the morning and five in the evening. These can be as simple as brushing teeth, having a bath and finding their shoes. Once these tasks are on a chart, it is up to your children to remember to complete them. It isn’t worth the fight to remind them or ask them multiple times.

Even better, you can pair these charts with an earning system. Each task they do earns them a token and once a jar is filled with tokens, they get a reward. You don’t need to stress about the things they don’t do. A day without brushed teeth won’t cause harm in the long run.

4. Picking your battles when you discipline your kids

For many parents, their children fighting with each other is very annoying and seemingly pointless!  However, the thing to remember is that your children fighting with each other is not your fight, and you don’t always have to get involved.

Of course, if someone is actually being hurt, you need to step in but if not, encourage your children to sort it out themselves. By getting involved when they ask you to, you are giving yourself stress over a discipline that may not be required.

When disciplining your kids, choose your battles wisely. If there’s no harm involved, let them resolve minor conflicts themselves. This teaches problem-solving and fosters independence, reducing your stress and empowering them.

5. Introduce the creative cleanup

Yes, you are trying to teach your kids the consequences of their actions. But why not make it a little more fun?

Children (toddlers to teenagers) tend to disobey and do the opposite of what you asked them to do. So instead of using conventional disciplinary methods, introduce creative cleanup. 

For instance, if your kids always leave their toys around the house, have them tidy up by telling them whoever gets the most toys in the toy box in a set time is the winner. You can even give them a small reward afterwards. Of course, don’t forget to emphasise the importance of tidying up after playing.

Doing this will create a positive atmosphere so they will not feel like you are bossing them around. Plus, you get to be the “fun” parent!

Further reading: 8 Persuasive ways to get your child to tidy their bedroom.

6. Only ask once

As parents, we often feel frustrated when our children don’t seem to listen and we have to repeat ourselves multiple times.

This is as frustrating for the child being asked because they are telling you through their behaviour that they can’t or won’t do what you are asking!

The more you ask, the more aggravated you will both become and the more heated the situation is likely to become.

A better idea is to take the following steps:

  • Ensure your child is actually able to listen (not engrossed in a screen or busy with something else)
  • Ask them the question
  • Wait about two minutes
  • Go up to them and tell them that you noticed they didn’t do what you asked and that they have until the timer rings to do it.
  • Explain what the consequence will be if they don’t do it. The idea here is not about punishment but rather about encouraging them to understand that every action they take has an automatic consequence. For example, if they haven’t put the toy away, you take the toy away completely.
  • After the time has passed, the consequence occurs

The aim of this method is two-fold:

  • Firstly, you are only asking once – Ask once/warn once/ consequence. Therefore, your child is learning you mean business!
  • Secondly, you are transferring some responsibility onto your child’s shoulders which gives them a sense of control – they are making a clear choice.

There may be situations where this approach isn’t feasible. However, making a conscious effort to ask your child fewer times can lead to increased responsiveness when you do ask.

7. Be sure to fill your own cup

If there is one thing that all parents are guilty of, especially single parents, it is looking after ourselves.

On top of cooking, keeping the house clean, and feeding your children, you also have to teach them manners and values along-side correct behaviour.

So how can you effectively discipline your kids when you’re exhausted?

Make time for yourself. Whether it’s a 15-minute alone time while sipping a cup of coffee or a short nap, take it. 

Make sure you schedule breaks, delegate responsibilities when possible, and seek support from friends or family. 

Taking care of your physical and mental well-being plays a crucial role in parenting. Having a sound mind and body will help you think clearly. It will give you more patience in dealing with toddler tantrums or teenage outbursts.

Further reading: 107 Self care ideas that cost you nothing.

My final words to help discipline your kids when you’re exhausted

We often have an idealised notion of the perfect home and parent, influenced by media images. However, setting realistic goals based on our own circumstances is crucial.

Being compassionate with yourself, like postponing laundry when tired or spending extra time snuggling with your child instead of doing dishes, is perfectly fine. It can even become a healthy habit over time.

It is true that not all of these ideas will work for everyone. But hopefully, there is something here that resonates with you and you family.

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