Setting rules for children is easy, but consistently enforcing those rules is more difficult. Parents sometimes slack off on applying the rules when they're tired or busy. However, enforcing rules only certain times is confusing and misleading for kids. Parents also have to set a good example and make sure they don't break their own rules.
Children of all ages need consistent rules to keep their lives orderly while they learn and grow through new experiences. Even very young children need rules to keep them safe. Although rules and discipline will change as the child grows, consistency needs to remain the same. If parents consistently enforce rules, children will be able to trust the rules and understand the consequences of breaking them. As they grow older, they know their parents will follow through with rules and discipline, which may deter poor behavior in the first place.
It is important for parents to work together when developing and enforcing rules. Inconsistency between parents sends a mixed message to children, who don't know who or what to believe. Inconsistency often occurs when parents have different parenting styles. They may have difficulty agreeing on rules, and one parent may be strict in enforcing a rule while the other parent overlooks it. Communication is the key to consistent parenting. Parents need to be clear with each other and their children when setting rules and limitations.
Children will challenge rules and limitations. It is how they learn about their world and their boundaries. It is also how they learn about the importance of rules and why they must follow them. Parents often expect teens to challenge their rules, but very young children such as toddlers may challenge rules even more. However, when parents consistently enforce rules, children will learn to follow them at a young age.
Too many rules can be confusing for young children. It is important to be clear as well as consistent. Keep rules simple enough for young children to understand, and make sure you explain the consequences of breaking them. Discuss the rules with your children and explain why they are important for your family. Encourage your children to follow the rules for their own safety and praise them when they do.
- KidsHealth: Discipling Your Child
- KidsHealth: Nine Steps to More Effective Parenting
- HealthyChildren.org: Family Life: Disciplining Your Child
- University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development: Rules and Limits
- Building Blocks: Tips on Rules
- University of Illinois Extension: Family Works: What Rules and Limits? Finding a Way with Young Children
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images