Setting rules for young children
Discipline is the process of guiding and teaching children to have acceptable behavior within certain limits, to cooperate, to be responsible, and to think for themselves. Discipline is not the same as punishment.
Punishment treats the person as wrong and deals with the past. Discipline treats the act as wrong and deals with the present and what should happen in the future. The goal for children is to gradually gain an inner sense of self-discipline that will guide them in the world.
Different ages and stages of development present different needs and discipline challenges:
-- At age one, your child cannot easily understand and follow rules yet. He/she will begin to learn that you cannot always behave as you please.
-- At age two, your child will begin to follow simple rules but will not be able to follow them consistently.
-- At age three, your child can follow a few more rules, though still not consistently. Your child will typically come when asked, wait for a turn, avoid most dangers, and obey the adult in charge.
-- At age four, your child will still only have limited self-control but can follow directions, obey an authority figure, return things to their place, and treat things with care.
Set up rules and consequences with your children so you can be sure they understand and agree. Follow these steps:
- Decide on the rules needed to protect the family.
- Rules are in place to promote fairness in the home. Children under age five are not motivated to follow rules in order to do what is right yet. They act more to gain approval from the important adults in their lives or to avoid consequences.
- Create your family. Hang the rules for everyone to see. If your child is old enough (4 or over), allow them to help you create the rules list.
- Determine appropriate consequences for breaking each rule with our easy to use behavior plans. You will determine the consequences in an order that fits your individual child. If taking television away makes a bigger impact than taking dessert, you would place television higher on your consequences list so not to have to get to the fifth consequence before the behavior changes. Display the consequences for everyone to see near the rules. Be firm and immediate with the consequences.
Once the rules are set, don’t forget:
- Review the rules together daily and help your children follow the rules. Young children (up to age 5 or 6) need frequent reminders of your expectations. It helps to tell them what you expect of them ahead of time, rather than once they are already acting up. Also, tell them what will happen if they behave and what will happen if they don't. For example, if you are going into a restaurant to eat, go over the expectations and the order of events during the experience. Let your child know that if they cannot follow these rules then they will have to come back to the car to sit and wait on the others who are following the rules.
- Praise your child when he/she follow the rules.
- Be firm and consistent with your consequences established for breaking each rule. Knowing right from wrong is an abstract concept that takes time and experience to understand.
- Change the rules for your child as they are “outgrown” and just become normal behavior for him/her. Develop rules for problem areas that need practice by your child.
- Ultimately, you are teaching your child that acting bad causes bad results, and acting good gets fun or good results.