Parents bombard children with rules and don't think about the effects. Admit it -- you're guilty. How many times a day do you say things like, "Don't touch that," "No shouting," "Stop running," "Pick up your toys" or "No snack if you don't eat your peas." Children need rules, and parents need to enforce them. Most rules are in place to protect children. Without rules children would have no stability and parents might not have any sanity left. However, too many rules can be difficult to follow and to enforce. Too many rules can complicate discipline. Keeping it simple is best.
1. Three to Five Rules Work Best
Too many rules can confuse and overwhelm a child. Imagine going to work and having your boss shouting orders at you all day. What if your superior gave you an overwhelming list of regulations to follow? You'd probably feel frustrated and not perform your job duties very well. You might even quit and just give up trying. That's how a child feels when there are too many rules to follow. Choose a few rules that are age appropriate for your child, and stick to them. According to Lehigh University College of Education, three to five rules at any one time is appropriate. More than five rules will be difficult for a young child to follow. It is important for parents to establish a few rules and follow through on them.
2. Be Clear
Once you have decided on a few important rules, explain them clearly to your child. If a young child is going to follow rules, he needs to understand what is expected of him. Clearly define the consequences of breaking the rules. Children will learn to follow the rules when parents are consistent in enforcing them. Let your child know what behaviors will be accepted and what will not be tolerated. For instance, if your child hits others, sit down with him and explain why hitting will not be allowed. Explain to your child that it hurts others when he hits them. Explain the punishment and the consequences for that behavior. Let your child know that if he hits another child, that child might hit him back. It is necessary to change rules as a child grows and develops, since rules that were appropriate before may no longer be effective. Avoid piling on more rules. According to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, too many rules don’t allow a child to grow and may lead to behavioral problems.
3. Get Everyone On the Same Page
Too many rules cause confusion for a child. Instead of correcting inappropriate behavior, a barrage of rules may result in more of the behavior you are trying to avoid. If a child is bombarded with a different set of rules at home and Grandma’s house or another family member's home, she is likely to be confused. Talk to relatives and discuss appropriate rules that can be applied at home and when your child is visiting family. You can also explain to your child that different people have different rules at their homes and they should follow those rules. However, it is best to try to get family members to agree upon a few certain rules to make it easier for the child to follow them.
4. Give Your Child Choices
Involve your child in the rule-making process. Although toddlers and preschoolers aren’t old enough to help create rules that will protect them from harm, they can participate in creating rules at home, like rules for picking up their toys. Children might be more likely to follow rules they help create and agree to since it gives them a sense of control over their behavior. Delegating a long list of rules to a child can make him feel frustrated and out of control. Allowing children to make small choices can also make them more willing to obey the rules. Let your child participate in making choices, such as choosing an apple or banana for a snack. Children learn by example. Rules won’t work if you and other family members don’t follow them. Too many rules overwhelm youngsters. Lead by example. Choose a few important rules and make sure everyone follows them. Fewer rules, backed up by consistency, provide structure for the child and help avoid parent-child power struggles.
- TWU Counseling Center: Parenting Tips for Successful Discipline
- Lehigh University: College of Education: Strategies for Parents -- Consistency and Follow Through
- Palo Alto Medical Foundation: Behavior Issues with Children
- University of Pittsburgh: Rules and Limits
- University of Illinois Extension: A Guide to the Business of Babysitting -- Behavior and Guidance
- Building Blocks: Family -- Tips on Rules
- Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images