Setting Rules For Children

Is the word “no” part of your vocabulary?
Do you have trouble enforcing the rules with your children?
Are you frustrated because your little angel is starting to act more like your little devil?

Don’t feel bad, you are not alone. These are issues I face on a weekly basis. At one time or another, all parents struggle with attitude problems from their little ones and have trouble getting them to mind and behave. Discipline is tough – setting and enforcing limits, getting our children to talk to us (and others) with respect, and getting them to do what they’re told to do.

If you are a single parent, this is an especially tough topic because at the end of the day -when it’s been a struggle to get work done, get the kids to school, get them fed, pick them up, get to soccer practice, AND get all your personal needs in order – you are simply exhausted. You don’t have “back-up” and trying to enforce rules and better behavior is the last thing on your mind. It is really hard not to just throw in the towel and fall back on the tried and true punishment of “go to your room!” But there are ways to make things easier and keeping daily habits regular and routine will help immensely. Try these tips…

  • Be The Boss – Your child needs to know who is in charge and needs to respect that person (you). Establish overall ground rules and stick with them. If you cave in, your child will ultimately not take your rules (or you) seriously.
  • Be Consistent – Not only on a day-to-day basis but also with the way you and your former spouse set boundaries. Try to work with your ex to come up with a plan that’s consistent between homes and agree to back each other up on how you’ll enforce limits.
  • Be Realistic – Don’t set goals or rules that are too high or to tough. If you do, your child may feel that they are not meeting your expectations – which could ultimately lead to resentment, low self esteem, and even more behavioral issues.
  • Be Fair – Don’t over react to problems or situations. Some issue, like those that involve health, safety, and respect, are non-negotiable. But many others don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Don’t get upset because your son wants to wear two different socks to school because he thinks it’s funny or your daughter decides that her favorite song needs to be repeated over, and over, and over again… the entire way to the mall!
  • Be Specific – Don’t give options when it comes to punishment. Be firm and fair. “Young man, either turn off the TV within 10 seconds or lose TV privileges for 10 hours”
  • (Let Them) Be Independent – Many times single parents (I am very guilty of this one) do too much for their children to make up for the fact that the kids don’t have two full time parents. Don’t go on that guilt trip. Give them room to make mistakes and find their own way. They need a chance to develop responsibility, intuition, determination, and independent ideas. But remember, you also need to know when to step and and enforce the boundaries.
  • Be Aware – Think about why your child is acting a certain way. If your child is like my son, they probably misbehave because they A) want attention, B) want control, C) want to get back at you for something you did, or D) they’re frustrated about something. Trying to fix a problem when you don’t even know what that problem is is of course, impossible. The easiest way to deal with something is the simplest – just talk. Ask what is bothering them. They may not always have the words to express themselves correctly but, if you’re listening and you’re in tune with your child, then you can probably figure it out. Then decide how much, if any discipline, is needed.
  • Be Patient and Understanding – Remember that you were a kid once too and everything that your child is now doing, you probably did years ago as well. Take a deep breath and try to see the situation from their perspective. When you are seven years old, everything is a dramatic crisis… and us parents definitely don’t need to add to that drama.

When all else fails, I have a phrase that I constantly use when I am at a loss and trying to understand my son’s bad behavior… “Be firm, be forgiving, be a friend.” It reminds me that I am still the one in charge, the one setting the rules but I am also the one who my son turns to for guidance, understanding, leadership, and answers to all the questions of the world.