Children as young as three can think things through using the statements… “If … Then…” This is called the age of reason where they can judge what might happen next if they choose certain behaviors. This means at this early age, we can already guide our children to take on the job of regulating their behavior. Having clear rules and expectations helps us help them make good choices. Here is summary of how you might start to incorporate your rules and expectations into your family life.
LET CHILDREN KNOW WHAT IS EXPECTED
First, State the positive expectations….
When designing your house rules, make sure to consistently state the positive things you want or expect. Here are a few examples of what you might expect. Only choose three (at the most) that work for your family and make sure they are general.
Be Nice Be Helpful Be Honest Be Gentle Be in Control
Then, Get specific. Start to think about what each positive expectation covers, and make sure your children understand that each broad expectation has specific parts to it. Children under 7 need to see these specifics visually in order to understand them, so showing them pictures of good choices is a great idea.
Being Nice = being nice with your body, your words, and your actions
Being Helpful = helping your family and friends, your home, and yourself (by doing your best)
Being in Control= controlling your body and actions, your words, and your emotions
Finally, Be on the lookout for good choices. Tell them you noticed when they made a good choice, and reinforce the behavior with your attention to it. For example state, “I noticed how you were in control of your body when we waited in line at the store. You probably wanted to touch the candybars but you didn’t and that was a good choice.”
LET CHILDREN KNOW WHAT IS NOT ALLOWED
“Zero in” on Zero Tolerance Behaviors
No Fussing No Fighting No Hurting No Whining No Lying
Choose a few items from this list or your own ideas that make sense in your home. These should be broad enough to cover a lot of ground. Again, visually showing children under age 7 examples of these negative behaviors is a good idea so that we can help them better understand what we are talking about. For example:
No Fussing means no whining, no screaming, and no wailing
GIVE YOUR CHILD TOOLS TO HELP THEM REGULATE BEHAVIOR
Give them a chance to rewind and do it over again without the bad choices. Parent may have to give them examples of how they could have done things differently like: Say that again in a nice way, Show me how to play nice with your sister, Say nothing instead of saying something nasty.
Allow them a chance to take a break. When they are unable to rewind on the spot and give you an alternative to the bad choice, allow them a chance to take a break away from the group and return on their own when they are ready to be nice. This break is not a negative consequence but just a chance to regroup. They may take it a multitude of different ways and whatever works to get them to regroup is an okay choice for a break. The goal is the regrouping not the actual break. So help your child decide what is going to work and use it.
Remind them that… Nice gets nice and Nasty gets nothing
Come up with a list of the things that are important to your child and take these things away for a designated time period if they do not get their behavior on track after rewinding or taking a break: tv, computers, favorite toys, snacks, dessert for the day. Make sure what you take away is something meaningful, so that they weigh the consequences of their actions. If you tell them they will lose something, then you HAVE to be willing to follow through.
If we set them up with these boundaries and tools, the child should begin to regulate their behavior without us doing it for them.
Having rules and system for how they work will give the child the boundaries and expectations they need to feel secure and safe.
Having Tools and a system for how they work will give the child the chance to be in charge of their behavior.
The child gets the chance to succeed on his own!
The child gets the chance to stay and play.
The child gets the chance to have special things later in his day.
Thumbs up to parents who use rules and boundaries to help their child bloom and grow!