Parenting with Pete: Make Sure They Understand Rules

Most children need rules. Most parents establish rules which range in effectiveness from limited or not helpful to very helpful.

Here are some suggestions for effective rules which, with some tweaking, can be used with children ages 2 to 17:

- Limit yourself to 5 rules or less. Too many rules are difficult to monitor and then are ignored. Children who ignore one rule without consequence are tempted to ignore other rules. Determine what behaviors you would like your children to change and select the most important ones.

- Establish positive rules rather than negative rules. Most rules begin with "No" or "Don't." Examples are "No running in the house" or "Don't hit your sister." However, telling children what NOT to do is less helpful than telling children what TO do. Tell a child "No running" and she will say, "I wasn't running. I was walking fast!" Say "No hitting" and he will say, "I didn't hit her. I just touched her by mistake!"

- Positive rules sound like "Walk slowly," "Speak quietly/politely," or "Keep your hands to yourself." Positive rules create a visual picture which the child can "see." For younger children, rules that rhyme are fun and easier to remember. "Speak quietly in the house, just like a mouse."

- Limit the rule to 10 words or less. Longer rules are less likely to be remembered and followed. It is not helpful when a child thinks, "What was that rule? Oh well." 

- Effective rules are do-able. Be sure your child is developmentally capable of understanding and following the rule. 

- Enforce the rules by imposing consequences when rules are broken and providing rewards when rules are followed. Effective consequences are connected to the rule infraction. 

Taking away TV for not doing homework makes sense if the child was watching instead of doing homework. But it does not make sense if the child was texting. Effective rewards can be as simple as "Thank you for putting your laundry away" or "I see you have finished your homework. Good job!" 

Effective rules are always in force but it is helpful when parents recognize unusual circumstances. Family events, school activities, illness are some examples of when parents might suspend the rules.


By Peter Herbst

Source: The Jersey Journal - -


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This entry was posted in Child Behavior & Discipline, Parenting & Education.

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