You Ought to Know:
1. Kids are more likely to follow rules when parents use positive discipline (firmness with dignity and respect) rather than excessive control or permissiveness (not setting limits).1
2. Kids pick which rules to obey, and most rules fall into four categories: moral rules, safety rules, social convention rules, and personal business rules, says Larry Nucci of the Institute of Human Development at the University of Berkeley.2
3. Of the four categories of rules, kids are most likely to get into fights with their parents about personal business rules, such as bathing, clothing styles, and eating.3
4. The way a parent frames a rule makes a big difference in whether or not a child will follow the rule, says Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center.4
5. Two key ways to frame a rule well is by using a calm (but firm) tone of voice and giving your child a choice, so that the rule doesn’t feel like an ultimatum.5
My Take On It
As a parent, it’s easy to think, “I want my kid to do this, so he should do what I say.” But presenting a rule with this mindset usually backfires. I learned early on about the importance of being calm and about giving choices, but by the time my kids were 4 years old, they had begun rejecting the choices I gave them. I then started asking them what they thought the choices should be (their responses usually made me want to giggle out loud). And I listened. This process of negotiation (while also remaining firm in what my expectations were) made me realize that kids need more of a voice. Not a voice to tell adults what to do—but a voice that’s respected so we can work together to find common ground.
When I listened to my young children’s suggestions, I gave counterproposals and explained why I thought some ideas were more prudent than others. By talking together, we often came to a set of personal business rules we could both agree on. Of course, this took a lot more time than I wanted (and still does), but now that both of my kids are teenagers, they’re more willing to sit down and talk about issues rather than spend a lot of time slamming doors in my face.
Ask your child: “What do you think of the rules our family has?”
- Find out more about effective rule setting at ParentFurther’s Discipline.
- Learn more about positive discipline at www.positivediscipline.com.
How do you get your kids to follow the rules? Share your comments below.
1. Jane Nelson, Positive Discipline (New York: Ballantine, 2006).
2. Alix Spiegel, “The Rules about How Parents Should Make Rules,” National Public Radio, March 29, 2010.