- Establish guidelines and expectations in advance of the situation.
- Praise your child when he is following the rules rather than just punishing him when he doesn't.
- Ignore (disengage from) negative behavior that is often just venting or moaning.
One of the most fundamental keys to success in getting kids to stop and do what you want is to set clear guidelines that establish easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow procedures. Clear guidelines, like TV is allowed only after all homework is completed, eliminate arguments and allow children to understand your expectations.
Do's Are Better than Don'ts
Children need rules. They need guidelines and expectations established in advance of the situation, not in reaction to problems. Most households have rules, some of which are stated (over and over again), some of which are implied. Usually these guidelines spell out an almost endless list of don'ts. And this list gets longer as disagreements and meltdowns occur. Invariably, parents stress what they don't want a child to do. When asked what the rules are, most kids recite an incredibly long list of don'ts.
Usually, the rules a child starts with are those most recently introduced or reintroduced. One preteen told me the rules in his home were: "Don't run in the house, don't leave your clothes on the floor, and don't use the lamps for bowling." This was a first for me. I've interviewed a lot of kids and gotten many different responses to this question, but I'd never heard this one before (or since). It was obvious that someone had set up makeshift bowling in the last twenty-four hours. And the parents had reacted with a new household rule. If this was now one of the top three rules, what previous guideline had it replaced? As important as the lamp-bowling rule may have seemed at the moment, I'm sure the parents did not consider it one of the life lessons they want uppermost in their children's minds.
This underscores two important parenting points. First, whatever is most recently discussed at high volume will, temporarily, rise to the top of the list of rules, undoubtedly displacing something else. Second, your child's repertoire of behaviors is one item longer than your list of don'ts. He will, inevitably, come up with the one thing you did not think to prohibit.
Guidelines (a term I prefer to the word rules, because it goes over better with adolescents) need to be stated in positive terms. They need to specify what you want a child to do instead of what you don't want him to do. The guideline to "keep hands and feet to yourself" also covers hitting, pushing, shoving, grabbing, pinching, or throwing things. I know some families who have expanded this to include "hands and feet and teeth" and a few that use "hands and feet and spit."
Frame household rules in positive terms. Doing so conveys what your expectations are--not just what your child isn't supposed to do.
Parents should include children in the process of developing and discussing guidelines because they will more likely remember a rule they helped develop. Moreover, a discussion with your children is a great way to find out what, after all these years, they really think are the important rules to remember.
Pointer for Effective Parenting
When you make the child part of the solution, he feels less like the cause of the problem.