Set rules

Easy ways to set expectations ahead of time

There are two easy ways for parents to proactively prevent issues in day-to-day interactions with their children by clearly and explicitly set expectations ahead of time:

1) Show the way: show your child exactly what is expected of them instead of just asking them to do something. Too often, parents describe what they perceive to be simple instructions (in cartoon: “be gentle with the pet” or “be quiet”) but children don’t necessarily have a good understanding of what “gentle” or “quiet” really mean to the parent in a specific situation. A child’s understanding of being “quiet” can be very different from the parent’s understanding. This is particularly true with young children (age 2-5). Showing the way in a very explicit and obvious manner will leave no room for interpretation (in cartoon: “Be gentle… just like this…”, and “Listen, this is how I whisper. Can you whisper?”).

2) Rehearse ahead of time: setting clear expectations ahead of time can be a simple method to get the results you want, without the fights or the tantrums. Instead of trying to correct the child’s bad behavior (“You are too loud” or “Your shoes are not on the shoe rack”), parents can simply identify challenging situations ahead of time, and remind their child about expectations (in cartoon: “Do you remember where to put your shoes inside?”). When kids know what is expected, they are more likely to deliver, and parents can avoid having to correct their child, which neither the parent nor the child will enjoy (“You forgot to put the shoes on the rack!”). A reminder ahead of time is more likely to elicit a positive action, and less likely to create resentment.

See next page for cartoons illustrating examples to show the way and rehearse ahead of time.

Set rules

Set rules ahead of time to avoid fights

There’s one universal truth about kids: they are noisy, which can be highly challenging for family members. To address this effectively, parents need to set clear boundaries and expectations while using non-harsh, positive discipline practices. Providing expectations and consequences for behavior ahead of time also teaches children accountability and responsibility. The manner in which appropriate expectations are delivered is essential to achieving good outcomes. Diana Baumrind, a clinical developmental psychologist known for her research on parenting styles, recommends a balanced “authoritative parenting” style: authoritative parents set rules and limits and expect a high level of maturity and cooperation from their children. However, contrary to “authoritarian” parents, “authoritative parents” offer children lots of emotional support. When children make mistakes, authoritative parents help children understand what went wrong, explaining the consequences of good and bad behavior. This warm, democratic parenting style, which balances authority with emotional support, is associated with a variety of positive outcomes for children and adolescents, including increased school achievement and reduced risky behaviors (Steinberg, Elmen, & Mounts, 1989; DeVore & Ginsburg, 2005).

When children misbehave, we recommend that parents act not as tough disciplinarians but rather, as teachers. As our children’s teachers, our goal is to respectfully and calmly enforce rules, but also give them choices and positively reinforce good behaviors (in cartoon: “You can use your inside voice here, or go to your bedroom where you can be as loud as you want”). Authoritative parenting is administered in a way that is firm and loving at the same time. Such discipline is also preventative, as it means ensuring that children know family rules and consequences ahead of time (in cartoon: “Can you remind me the rules when you are inside the house?”). Reviewing such expectations serves to avoid the problems all together.

Noisy behavior can also occur when children are playing well together. Not such a bad thing! The fact that they are engaging in positive play should be rewarded (in cartoon: “You boys are doing such a great job playing together!”). While parents may want to address the noise level, they also want to continue encouraging creative play. To help accomplish this, parents can present choices or fun alternatives. If kids are not allowed to be loud in certain areas of the house and need to go to their bedroom, reminding them of this rule should be carried-out calmly and without anger. With this method, both parents and children win: parents achieve their desired outcome without resentment and children continue to enjoy their boisterous fun!
Key take-aways to set rules ahead of time:

1) Make sure that children are aware of rules ahead of time, and agree that rules make sense. You can ask the children to describe the rules back to you to make sure they understand and know them.

2) Discipline positively. You are a teacher, not a punisher. Rules are set to protect everyone’s safety and well-being (in cartoon: “We have to use our inside voice”), not to punish (in ‘What to avoid’ cartoon: “That’s it. I’m taking the toys away”).

3) When a child fails to abide by the rules, your job as a teacher is to give them reminders (in cartoon: “Can you remind me the rules inside the living room?”). You can even exaggerate in a playful way (“oh nooo… someone forgot the rule!”).

4) Suggest fun alternatives. This will help you avoid being perceived as the punisher. See Magic Way 2 for details.

Set rules

Set rules and expectations ahead of time

All parents experience issues with temper tantrums or fights between children. When tantrums happen, parents often perceive their children to be unreasonable and struggle to figure out how to best respond to these challenging episodes. Unfortunately, most parents follow a reactionary approach, trying to find solutions only after the challenging situation has started.

Preventing a problem from happening in the first place is actually easier. Setting rules and expectations ahead of time with young children will help avoid these tantrums happening in the first place. Parents must become skilled at defining clear boundaries, rules, and consequences, as well as communicating their expectations clearly and explicitly to their children ahead of time.

Cartoon 8 shows how setting rules ahead of time can help sort out a tricky situation with kids playing loudly. Cartoon 9 also shows quick and easy ways to proactively prevent issues before they happen.

Cartoons for this Magic Way:

Cartoon 8: Set rules ahead of time and enforce with calm (kids playing loudly).

Cartoon 9: Easy ways to set expectations ahead of time.