Every child will test the rules to some degree. In fact, most acts of testing parents are a normal part of a child’s process of growing up. When children test adults, it is often their way of expressing feelings that they don’t understand, and from out responses they gradually learn how to handle their emotions appropriately. By testing the limits, they learn that we really care about certain ground rules of grace and courtesy in our relationships. In acting out, they are taking their first tentative steps toward independence, attempting to demonstrate that we don’t control them completely.
We could look at our approach in 3 steps:
- Family Ground Rules
Establish and agree on your family ground rules. It helps to have them written down and displayed where both parents and the children can see and refer to them. This encourages your child to do the right thing rather than focusing on his mistakes.
Here are a few basic rules:
- Treat everyone with respect
- If you use something, put it back correctly when you are done.
- If you break or spill something, clean it up.
- Tell the truth and don’t be afraid to admit when you make a mistake.
Explain the ground rules positively, rather than as prohibitions. Instead of saying “Don’t do that!” the rules should tell your child what he should do. Model the same behaviours that you are trying to encourage in your child. Consciously try to catch your child doing something right and reinforce and acknowledge even small steps in the right direction.
When your child is breaking a ground rule, there are several things you can do other than scold, threaten or punish. You can redirect him by suggesting a more appropriate choice. You can remind him of the ground rule and politely but firmly ask him to stop. If the situation is not emotionally charged (that is, if you are not personally aggravated), you can re-teach the basic lesson about how to handle such situations. Be consistent. If you can’t bring yourself to reinforce a rule again, it shouldn’t be a ground rule in your home. A few good rules are much better than dozens of rules that are often ignored.
- Cut down on the word “no”
Sooner or later, every child will stubbornly say “No, I don’t want to!” this is the classic power struggle that starts in the toddler years and often continues into childhood and adolescence.
Here are some strategies to help reduce the number of power struggles and use of the word “No!”:
- Give your children choices
- Teach your child to say no politely- “mom, I really don’t feel like doing that now.”
- Don’t simply give in- look for ways that might allow you to back down gracefully. Often , through compromise, both you and your children can get most, if not all, of what you are after,
- Power struggles can be minimized- by giving your child meaningful levels of independence and responsibility. This makes her feel powerful and grown up.
- Reserve “no” for the really important issues such as an activity that might harm your child or others or cause damage.
- Instead of punishing, teach.
Threats and punishments are not good tools to get children to behave. When children are angry, or are asserting their independence, they often act out and don’t care if they are punished. On the other hand, children who respond to threats and are shaken by punishments are anxious to please us and win back our love. Arguably, these children will respond just as well to other forms of discipline. While punishments tend to produce immediate results, they are rarely long lasting and work only if the person being threatened cares.
Teach your child to do things correctly and emphasize the positive rather than using insults and anger. Its not always easy. Try not to ask your child unanswerable questions, such as, “How many times do I have to tell you…?” to which the appropriate response would be, “ I don’t know, Dad! How many times do you have to tell me?” if you ask a silly question, you’re likely to get a silly answer.
We can help our children to learn good behaviour, courtesy and compassion by demonstration, reassurance, and unconditional love.