Parenting Matters: Cleaning up your behavior guidelines

At any and all ages, children test limits. You shouldn’t look on this as a bad thing but merely as something you need to be prepared to handle.


At any and all ages, children test limits. You shouldn’t look on this as a bad thing but merely as something you need to be prepared to handle. Part of the reason for the testing is your child wants more independence. That certainly isn’t a bad thing. However, it also doesn’t mean you let him do anything he wants to do.

Some general guidelines need to be followed that can help you know what to do when he breaks the rules.

First, set rules you can enforce. If you say no television after school and he ignores your rule, it is a bigger problem than television. Setting rules you cannot enforce teaches him to ignore your rules. If you aren’t home to make sure he is not watching television, don’t make that rule.

Have age-appropriate expectations. Your 3-year-old child can help pick up in his room or put napkins and silverware on the table but isn’t very good at dusting and vacuuming his room. There is plenty of time to increase what you expect.

Don’t expect perfection. Don’t expect that chores will be done the way you would do them. Even if your child is a teenager, you have to have some flexibility. Improvement comes but perfection can take a bit longer.

Set rules in a positive way. You certainly want to avoid sounding harsh or ruling. Be a positive rule setter. You can say, “I need you to get along with your sister,” rather than “Don’t fight with your sister!” It just sounds nicer. Once again, be sure you are around to verify that the positive rule you gave him is enforced.

Be clear about your expectations. Don’t just say, “Clean up your room.” That isn’t clear. Be specific such as, “Please pick up your toys, take out the trash and put your dirty clothes in the laundry room.” That is clear.

Have him involved with the rule you set. This certainly helps him follow a rule if he was involved in the rule to begin with. Tell him you want his help in setting rules for how much he can use his telephone and ask what he thinks would be fair.

Praise him for following the rules. This is mainly because it lets him know that you are paying attention to what he is doing. It also makes him try harder to follow the rules.

Praise him when he does what you ask. Most parents undervalue the importance of praising their child. This is a way of saying “Good Job!” “I am really pleased.” “You are growing up!”

Keep the rules consistent. Obviously, rules for all occasions aren’t necessarily the same. Help him learn that rules for home might be different than at school or at Grandma’s house.

When he breaks a rule, don’t overreact. Breaking a rule isn’t the end of the world. Don’t get angry. Stay calm and focus on what the rule is. Ask him how he thinks the problem can be solved. This can give him an incentive to follow the rule. If you do this without hollering and screaming, it communicates you just want him to follow the rule.

As your child grows, the rules change and the responsibilities increase. Be prepared to respond to the changes you see are necessary but remember the basic of the rules you set forth. Being clear to your child about what your expectations are is a strong way of teaching him.



Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. Reach Martin at or at 681-2250.