know that Users’ Manual that was supposed to come with your kids and
didn’t? Well, here it is. Now we’re on Part III. Remember to read Parts
I and II. Or you’ll be sorry!
In this part,
we’ll look at what rules families need to have for their kids. Many
parents make the mistake of thinking that they don’t need rules if
their child’s behavior doesn’t personally bother them. An individual
parent may not mind it when a child picks his nose, yells loudly, or
climbs on adults. But these behaviors bother a lot of other people. Or
there may be things that bother you but not your spouse, or vice versa
-- whether it’s kids wearing mismatched clothes or leaving things on
So let’s begin with the important guideline for setting rules. Your
rules should be in line with the expectations of the community –
teachers, other parents, shopkeepers, family and friends, and your
children’s peers. Of course, there’s room for variation
by your family, but your child has to learn the community standards or
risk being chastised or ignored by many – or even ridiculed. That’s too
rough on a child. For example, if your child yells or touches others’
possessions excessively, he’ll be corrected so often that he’ll wind up
feeling uncertain about himself and angry at others for chastising him.
He may also be criticized and excluded from playdates and parties, and
start feeling like an outcast.
Your rules should consider
your child’s age. As an example, five-year-olds can put away all their
toys and two-year-olds can’t. Look back at Part I to see how you can
learn what to expect. Children whose parents frequently under- or
over-expect of them are far more confused and troubled than those whose
parents have realistic expectations. We increase our expectations as
our children grow older and become more competent.
Here are a few things to begin with before we get to the rules.
It's valuable to use phrases with your young child such as “It's
Mommy's and Daddy's job to teach you everything that a
____-year-old needs to know.” With elementary school kids, add, “…about
how to behave.” This concept helps reinforce that rule-making is a parent's job. Many children think their parents only make rules because they’re mean and don’t want kids to have fun.
Children should also be given reasons for new or changed rules: “We
need to get dressed quickly today because…” It’s also important to
praise children for cooperating: “You picked up your toys so fast –
that was great,” or “That was so helpful.” And the child needs to
understand the consequences of not cooperating. Consequences will be
addressed in detail in Users’ Manual for Parents, Parts IV and V.
Now let’s look at the basic rules we should teach our children. As you
read through this introduction to the main rules, add the many
specifics you want your children to learn so you can build your views
and values into your parenting, in partnership with your spouse. The
following categories cover the many kinds of rules.
The first rule is that your child needs to pay attention when you speak to him. Get
your child’s attention and don’t settle for repeating yourself five or
10 times. Ways to make this happen will be described in Users’ Manuals
Parts IV and V, dealing with consequences.
The second set of rules and limits involves safety. Parents
are the most confident in enforcing limits in this area – rules like
not touching a hot stove or running into the street for younger
children, or not playing with matches or skateboarding on busy streets
for older kids.
Third are rules and limits covering respect for other people and possessions.
They include using “please” and “thank you,” and speaking respectfully
and kindly to friends and siblings. Children also need to learn to
treat possessions – theirs and others’ – appropriately, such as: Don’t
take others’ things without asking and don’t ruin your clothes or toys.
Fourth are rules involving regular routines. Morning
routines guide dressing, toothbrushing and so on. Daytime routines
dictate eating, playtime, homework, TV, computer, video games, etc.
Evening routines address preparing for bedtime, from putting away toys
to how many stories, or how long a child can read in bed. Routines
provide the necessary predictability for children and decrease
Next are rules that cover necessary habits. These include table manners and good eating habits, toileting, hand-washing, bathing, and so on.
Last, parents need to encourage their young child to practice skills that prepare him for starting school:
speaking well and clearly, paying attention when someone talks to him,
using scissors, learning the letter sounds, printing his name and so
forth. Older children need skills that help them succeed in elementary
school, such as understanding that they have to try even when they
don’t want to; knowing how to work hard; asking for help in areas of
weakness; and learning to be organized, including homework times and
Rules that you put together as parents should teach a child the essential values to internalize as he grows up. Your
rules and values help him to navigate life successfully. Rules help
children eventually learn to manage their time, get along with others,
tackle unappealing tasks, limit impulse buying, get enough rest
and exercise, eat healthfully, and face challenges.
As you add your specific
rules to complete this list, you should continue training your child so
that knowing how to behave becomes second nature to him. Pay attention
to the behaviors your children need extra guidance on because of their
individual personalities, whether it’s toning down a boisterous nature
or speaking loudly enough to be heard.
young children grow, good habits start to become automatic – as long as
we have taken the time to train them: washing their hands before they
eat, speaking politely to adults, removing their plate from the table,
blowing their own nose, making their beds. And when they’re in
elementary school, they learn to do homework, help make their lunch,
bring in their bicycle, invite kids for playdates, help with family
Parents would do well to plan
what they need to work on next with their kids, in partnership with
their spouses. It’s helpful to update these lists together, including
how to teach the skill. Teachers, pediatricians, friends, and family
will have suggestions that are often worth listening to.
however, often resist rules. And parents soon realize that their
lectures about why and how our children should have behaved (e.g. “When
I tell you to pick up your toys, you need to do it. Toys have to be put
where they belong. Do you understand?”) often don’t impact their
cooperation the way we wanted them to. So, Parts IV and V will update
you about consequences – new ones and improved old ones.
Annye Rothenberg, Ph.D., author, has been a child/parent
psychologist and a specialist in childrearing and child development for more than 25 years. Her parenting psychology practice is
in Emerald Hills, California. She is also on the adjunct faculty in
pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Rothenberg
was the founder/director of the Child Rearing parenting program in Palo
Alto, California, and is the author of the award-winning books Mommy and Daddy are Always Supposed to Say Yes … Aren’t They?, Why Do I Have To?, I Like To Eat Treats, I Don't Want to Go to the Toilet, I Want To Make Friends and I'm Getting Ready For Kindergarten. These are all-in-one books with a story for preschoolers and a manual
for parents. Her new series is for elementary school childen and their parents. The first book is Why Can't I Be the Boss of Me? (2015). For more information about her books and to read her
articles, visit www.PerfectingParentingPress.com. To find out about her counseling practice and her speaker presentations, go to AnnyeRothenberg.com.