Thursday, February 11, 2010

3. Setting Rules

Does your child have selective hearing? Does your child's behavior drive you crazy? Does you child follow your rules only when it is convenient? Discover how to set and teach rules that can make your child the envy of all your friends and neighbors.


Of all the behaviors you want your child to show, you must pick those few that are most important to you to begin with. Having a long list of new rules can be overwhelming for your child (and you) to remember. The more consistently you repeat and enforce your rules, the quicker your child can learn and internalize them. This requires that you concentrate on one or two rules at a time.

To determine your highest priorities, you may want to start a list of all the behaviors or rules you would like your child to follow. Then review the list and decide, based on your own values, which ones are the most important to you. Which rules, if your child follows them, will cause the greatest improvement in your family life. Which behaviors could lead to the greatest harmony, the highest achievement, the most stress reduction. Use whatever criteria is most significant to you. For example, you not want to place as much emphasis on, “Always put your papers in the top left corner of your desk,” as you do on, “Always look both ways before you cross the street.” You can number them by order of importance. Then start right in teaching rule number one.

You can keep adding to this running list as you think of new rules, and as your child matures. You can also keep rewriting your list as your priorities change over time.

By building up your child's good behavior one or two at a time you can have, over time, the best behaved child you can imagine.


Once you have decided on the order of importance of your rules, you can begin to word them in language your child can easily understand and repeat. This needs to be age appropriate. For example, “Always put your papers in the top left corner of your desk,” may work better than, “Position your writing materials in the upper left location of your bureau on a daily basis.” It may take more than one attempt and some trial and error. Try to boil your concepts down to ideas your child can grasp easily. Use words you know your child is familiar with. As your child's vocabulary expands, so can the vocabulary in your rules. If the language or the concepts you use in your rules are too complex, then teaching those rules will be an exercise in frustration, for you and your child.


Learning new behaviors requires repetition. First, you must say a new rule out loud repeatedly so your child becomes familiar with the words, phrases and idea. Then, have your child memorize the rule by repeating it out loud to you. For more on this, see the section Eliminate Deliberate Disobedience. The more you require your child to say the rule, the more quickly he/she will learn the new rule.

This strategy of repetition also applies to the performing the behavior. First, you must demonstrate the behavior, or do it with your child, repeatedly for him/her to become familiar with the actions required. Then, have your child master the rule by repeatedly demonstrating it while you watch.

This process of familiarizing, then memorizing/mastering, through repetition may be the most powerful method you can use to teach your child new things.

Try This:

1) Make a list of family rules based on your own values. This can accelerate the speed at which your child learns what is important in life more than anything else you do.
2) Practice following the rules with your child. Your attention to repetition is key to laying the foundation of your child's good behavior.

Coming soon: Be a Role Model for Your Child. Master the single greatest influence on your child!

2. Reward and Punishment

Do you find yourself screaming to get your child to listen to you? Are you tired of repeating yourself over and over? Learn what works and what doesn't to shape your child into a well-behaved angel!

Identify What Your Child Likes

The first step toward gaining the willing cooperation of your child is to notice the things your child likes to have and do. These will be rewards. During your daily interaction, pay attention to activities and toys that your child picks when given a choice. Make a note of the places and games your child asks to go and play. For example, “John always wants to play on the computer.” These are the things that your child will likely put forth whatever effort you request (or require) to get.

Determine the Consequences

For each of your rules and requests that you make for your child, decide in advance what the consequences (reward and/or punishment) will be. The more concretely and clearly you can communicate these, the more easily your child will be able to comply. The consequences should be appropriate for the behavior. For example, “You cannot play on the computer for a year, if you do not finish your homework by 6 o'clock tonight,” may not be an appropriate consequence. And they must be meaningful to your child. That is why the first step (above) is so important. Your child will be little moved by things that are important to you. But he/she may be highly motivated by things that are exiting or fun or dreadful to him/her.

People of any age always want to know “What's in it for me?” In the adult world, people go to work and let themselves be bossed around all day long. Not because they enjoy doing what someone else tells them to do, but because they enjoy the reward (money) they earn as a consequence. Likewise with children, you can get them to do all kinds of things they may not enjoy, if you reward them with things they do enjoy.

Make the Connection

Connect each of your rules to appropriate consequences for your child. If the only consequence of noncompliance for your child is that you get upset, then he/she may feel that is your problem and it is okay to ignore you. By tying your child's good behavior to rewards and/or punishments, you give him/her a stake in the outcome. Your child now has a vested interest in what you want him/her to do. For example, you have a rule that “Homework must be done first thing after school.” You could say, “If you finish your homework, then you can play on the computer” or “No playing on the computer until your homework is finished.” This will attract your child's attention like never before, and possibly even get him/her excited to finish quickly so he/she can enjoy the reward.

Try This:

1) Start a list of all the activities, games, toys, places, etc. that your child enjoys. Keep adding to your list as your child grows and develops new interests.
2) State clearly to your child what the consequences are for following (and for not following) each of your rules and requests. This technique alone could save you from untold rounds of repeating yourself over and over and screaming like a crazy person.

Coming soon: Setting Rules. Discover how to set and teach rules that make your child the envy of all your friends and neighbors.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

1. Eliminate Deliberate Disobedience

Do the daily struggles with your child leave you exhausted at the end of each day? Does your child seem determined to test your will with every request you make? You can put an end to the battles over obedience with your child!

Your Most Important Rules

Decide which rules and behaviors are most important to you. These are things that you expect of your child in nearly every situation, every time. For example, "Wash your hands before you eat." Make a list. Try writing them in language he can not only understand, but will be able to memorize. Use words that are appropriate for his age. The more clear you are about these family rules, the better chance you will have of getting him to follow them.

The next few times you need to correct his behavior, say the rule out loud. Then, and this is key, if he needs to be reminded of the rule again, make your child say the rule out loud to you. This moment in the process requires your full attention. Take the time necessary to help him say it. You may need to coach him through it the first time (or first few times.) Make him stop doing everything else and look at you. Make him keep repeating himself until he says the rule correctly, while looking at you, in a voice loud enough that you can clearly hear him. Doing this will impress upon him the importance of the rule. And it will impress upon him not only that he must learn the rule, but must follow it.

From then on, you can ask him to repeat the rule (when it is called for.) You can even refer to it by name. To use the earlier example, you could ask, "What is the rule about washing your hands?"

One-Time Requests

Make a distiction between your most improtant rules and one-time, or situational, requests. One-time requests are those you make of your child on the spot, because the current situation calls for it. For example, "It is getting late. It's time to go home now." These kinds of requests require more flexibility on your part.

Most people, including children, (and probably you too) do not like to be bossed around all day long, pushed and pulled at the whim of someone else. If you are always barking orders at your child, or anyone else for that matter, sooner or later they will get sick of it, maybe even start to resent it.

I suggest be firm when the situation demands it (you need to take the turkey out of the oven,) and be flexible when you can (you are bored and feel relaxing in front of the television.) If your child resists a one-time request, you have the opportunity to help your child learn to make good decisions by considering the consequences. You might offer two or more choices he can pick from. You might ask what he would like to do, then follow up with more detailed questions. The more you elaborate on the possible outcomes of his various choices, the more likely he is to be satisfied with either your request or a compromise close to it. You also get the chance to teach him your values, those things that are important to you and why, when you have his full attention (because he has a vested interest in the outcome of the discussion at hand.) And the more times you repeat this process with situational requests, the more your child feels empowered to make good choices.

Pick Your Battles

The distinction between your important rules and one-time requests makes all the difference in gaining your child's obedience. When you are clear on which behaviors you expect without compromise and which things are negotiable, you give yourself and your child a solid framework to work in. This makes it possible for him to assert his will sometimes (where you are flexible,) while you maintain control of the essentials. Now you have a benchmark to decide what is willfull disobedience, and what is resistance for some other gain. Those rules that you decide should be important and constant, should be enforced consistantly. Never allow your child to be disobedient just to spite you.

Some people are strong-willed (confrontational) and some are easy-going (non-confrontational.) This applies to children, too. Another way to say this is some people feel the need to be in control of their surroundings and others are okay to go with the flow. You will have more battles (learning opportunites) over a longer period with a strong-willed child.

If your child is disobeying you merely to exert control, your reaction should be swift and severe. Priviledges should be taken away and punishment given. I do not recommend hitting or administering any physical violence on your child. The consequences should fit the offence and his maturity level. For example, do not ground him for a year if he stuck his hand in the bag of chips, even though you just told him to wash his hands first.

If you brush off deliberate disobedience, or only deal with it only mildly, you can expect more of the same in the future. Your child may come to realize that he can set the rules and get away with it. The consequences should be unpleasant enough to him to deter him from repeating the offense. He will learn from your responses what is acceptable and what is unacceptable.

Try This:

1) Create a list of rules for your child (Family Rules.) Over time, teach him to say each rule out loud from memory. You will be amazed at difference this makes in your child's behavior.
2) When your child resists a request that you can be flexible on, discuss his various choices and the possible consequences. This may be the most powerful tool you can use to teach your child to make wise choices.
3) Deliver swift and harsh consequences for deliberate (spiteful) disobedience. This will persuade your child such behavior will not be tolerated, and in a very short time you will find disobedince a thing of the past.

Coming Soon: Reward and Punishment. Learn what works and what doesn't to shape your child into a well-behaved angel!