Gail Joan Cohen
DO AS I SAY!
What if your child does not do what is asked? What if he breaks the rules? We could spank or we could yell or we could ignore the child and the problem. Suppose our children did everything we told them to do. Would that be better? Would they then do everything everyone told them to do? Would this be good? Suppose their friends gave them illegal drugs and told them to take them. Suppose a stranger asked your child to go with him? If we raise our children to do everything they are told, would they do everything everyone else told them to do? We do not want blind obedience. But, we do want our children to follow certain rules we have established for them and to follow the laws of our country. We want our children to learn how to make decisions and follow rules and values they believe in and to follow the rules set up by parents. Children must accept the consequences if they break the rules. Our role as parents is not to ask for blind obedience but to teach our children how to evaluate rules and requests and either live by them or find a productive way to change them.
It is a challenge to know when to insist on firm rules that must be followed and when to teach children to think for themselves. When children are very young it will be necessary for parents to set rules and for the children to follow without question. As soon as children are old enough to question the rules, it is time to explain your reasons for the rules and what will happen if the rule is broken. Listen to what you child has to say about the rule. Perhaps he has some good points and the rule may need to be changed or modified. Be open to eliminating and changing rules as required. Listen to your children! Letting them have some input into the family routines will help them learn to evaluate rules and make decisions. This is a very important part of growing up. We want our children to be able to evaluate the rules of life and what others ask them to do and make responsible decisions!
Sometimes it is easier to teach rules by role playing. Teaching children not to go with strangers would be such a rule. Role play what your child should do if approached by a stranger. Also role play what to do when someone, perhaps even someone the child knows, asks the child to go with him. Role play what you want your child to say and do. Emphasize that you need to know where he or she is at all times and not to go anywhere without letting Mom or Dad know. Children can be cordial and still follow the rule of not going with anyone without permission from Mom, Dad, or the babysitter.
Another subject that must be discussed, when appropriate, is how to evaluate what peers ask your children to do. Their friends may ask them to go somewhere or eat or swallow or breathe something of which you would not approve, such as drugs. This is a subject that must be discussed before children are approached. There are many brochures and books available on this subject so I will not go into details here. Don’t assume that your child will not be affected or asked. Assume that he or she will be approached and discuss the appropriate response beforehand. Also, tell your child to tell you when he or she is asked to do something that he/she knows or even thinks may not be proper.
When we set up consequences for broken rules for our children, we want them to be appropriate to the situation. The consequences for the broken rule should be carried out consistently and as unemotionally as possible, without yelling, screaming or hassles. Although children can know that we are disappointed or upset, talking about and admitting our feelings, is a better way to communicate than screaming or spanking. Remember, how we respond to anger and disappointment is how our children will respond to anger and disappointments. Give the consequence for the broken rule; you broke the rule, and this is the consequence.
We want our consequences not to inconvenience the rest of the family. Often, when the children were young, I would say something like, “If you do not hurry up and get ready and stop fighting we are not going to the carnival”. Well, they probably did not stop and my only alternatives were either to not stick to my word or to not go to the carnival. If we did not go to the carnival it would punish the entire family, including me. And, I wanted to go to the carnival. So I decided that this was not an effective consequence.
One of my favorite consequences involved kitchen duty. We usually rotated kitchen cleanup after meals. An infraction of the rules meant you had kitchen cleanup, by yourself, every night for a week. Everyone else in the family really liked that one, too.
Not being allowed to watch television, use the computer or cell phone, was sometimes a good punishment, but be sure you are not making things worse for yourself by eliminating these things completely. Television can sometimes be a good babysitter, although I would not recommend using it too often.
Sticking to your rules is not always easy. Sometimes the children were only allowed to watch a certain show but would then continue on without permission and watch another program. They would then beg just to finish the current show. “It is almost over.” “We won’t know how it ends.” It may seem easier at the time to let them finish the show. In the long run it was better to turn the television off immediately. And, turning the television off before the end of the show stopped the habit of leaving the television on to watch the next show.
The consequence of being isolated from the rest of the family or friends always worked. The time of isolation would depend on the crime. It is important that it be long enough to be effective but not so long as to cause resentment or rebellion. Where the child is isolated is important, too. A chair in another room works well. This would be a time for your child to think about his behavior and the consequences of the behavior.
Children will often fight over a family toy, each one believing he has a right to have it. There is no way to decide who is right without leaving the other child to feel we are not being fair. Most children, adults, groups or countries that disagree always feel they each are right! In life, often, it is not a question of right or wrong. It is what we believe. Our belief can be different from the other person’s beliefs. In the toy situation, I found the easiest solution was to take the toy away from them both. This stopped the children from coming to me and complaining. They knew they would both lose the toy. They started to solve problems by themselves. This would be a good time to encourage the ability to negotiate and compromise. Have them identify or state the problem first and then come up with possible solutions (brainstorm). They can discuss the solutions and find one that they both agree on. When they decide together on the solution and who should have the toy or how they will share the toy, they may have the toy back.
Young children have difficulty sharing. Some toys or possessions may belong to a specific child. It may have been a birthday gift. If a toy or article belongs to a child, I believe it is his to have or to share as he sees fit. Our children were expected to not touch what did not belong to them and to get permission first if they wanted to play with something that was not theirs. I believe most children will learn to share naturally as they mature and want others to share with them. This is also a good concept for learning life skills. Do not touch or take what is not yours. I believe this is an essential concept for us all to learn.
It is the nature of children to fight or argue. They will instinctively try to take control. I believe that it is okay for children to disagree. I also believe that just because children are siblings does not mean that they will always like each other. Allow them to have their feelings and do not insist that they always love one another. This concept seemed to help. There were rules that had to be followed about their disagreements. One was that they had to argue where I could not hear them. That alone took some of the fun out of it. After all, if they were not going to annoy mother, why bother fighting. If they were physically fighting there was a rule about not really hurting one another. You will need to define other rules depending on your level of tolerance.
Many children also seem to be always moving (or running). This is probably part of their makeup (or the food they eat). You cannot expect a very active child to sit quietly like his quiet sibling. You will, of course, have some rules around this behavior. Make sure they are realistic rules. Give the active child plenty of active play time. The very active child needs to be able to use his energy. Teach good energy outlets like jump rope, exercise and sports.
Sometimes the parents will not agree on discipline or rules. Sometimes Mommy will say “no” and junior will ask Daddy. Always ask, “What did mommy say”? Or, “What did daddy say”? Parents must provide a united front to the children. Be sure you stick to what the first person said, even if you disagree with the answer! Later, parents can decide on the rules together. The “yes” or “no” answer at the time will not have as much an impact on the children as the disagreement between the parents. Discuss your differences privately and not in front of the children. Children must know that if one says, “no” he/she cannot go to the other. That is courting disaster. No rule is as important as the agreement between the parents. If you cannot agree on how to raise your children try this system. Each parent writes down his/her five most important rules. Eliminate the ones you agree on and then divide the others equally. Negotiate the rules the same way you would if you were negotiating a business proposition. You may not be able to agree 100 percent, but the more you agree the better for the children. Some activities may need the approval of both parents. Decide ahead of time what those activities would be.
Sometimes grandparents or babysitters would have different rules from our rules. Some differences are not important. Children will understand that Grandma will allow an extra hour of television and Mommy will not. That does not mean that mommy needs to follow Grandma’s rules or vice versa. A simple, “this is what we do in this house and that is what you do at Grandma’s house”, will usually work. If you feel very strongly that your child will be harmed by watching an extra hour of television once in awhile, then be sure Grandma or the babysitter know how you feel. It is important that the rules that you feel strongly about are agreed on and followed by everyone taking care of your children.
Children and adults need to know about rules and laws. We have certain laws in this country that we must follow or we must endure the consequences. All of us must be taught the laws and obey them or follow proper procedure to change them. The same is true of our rules at home or at school. Follow the rule or follow the procedure to get it changed. If it is not changed and the rule is broken then we must be prepared to endure the consequences.
Rules and laws are different than right and wrong. Rules and laws are determined by the country, state, schools, community, organization or family. Who determines right and wrong? Each one of us has different beliefs about right and wrong. Just because someone else has different ideas does not necessarily make them wrong. Think about that before you argue with someone. Listen to their reasons. You may find some points you can agree on or you may decide that you each want to stay with you own opinions, neither right nor wrong.