It’s important even at an early age that children are taught that there are rules they need to live by to be safe and live in harmony with others. When you begin teaching these rules at an early age, not only do you benefit from children that are better behaved, but your children benefit from learning structure and reasoning skills as well. There are three primary ways to teach your children the how and why of following rules.
The most important influence in your home is you. You model desired behavior to your children every day in how you interact with them and with other members of the household. It is by watching you that your child initially begins to learn what actions are acceptable in your home. If you live in order and follow your own set of rules, your children will grow up noticing this behavior and begin to model it. Have you ever noticed that as a young toddler starts to speak more and more they become your copy cat? This is true of their actions as well. If they see you being courteous and saying please and thank you they are more likely to do the same. If you begin by hanging up your jacket when you take it off they are more likely to do that as well.
You can’t expect your children to learn everything instinctively or simply by modeling your actions. It is important to take the time to individually instruct them on the rules you want to establish and how they should follow them. For instance, if you have a rule about hanging up a jacket and taking off shoes each time they come into your home, you need to take your young children by the hand and help them to hang the jacket and remove their shoes. This learning by instruction allows them to be taught exactly how you expect something to be done and helps them to establish the routine of doing it. The same can be true for acceptable language, chores to be done and other rules established in your home. We remind young children to say please and thank you because we know it is not instinctive yet and they need guidance to create this habit.
3. Positive Reinforcement
The best way to have continued good behavior and rule following is to reward it when it does happen. Instead of always noticing when the jacket hasn’t been hung up, notice and thank your child when you see them actually come in the door hang up the jacket and take off the shoes. By focusing positive attention on good choices and following the established rules, your children are getting the feedback they need to continue the behavior. Of course, it is always easier to notice when rules are broken, but if you take the time to purposely look for those things your child is doing right and point them out, your child will strive more and more for the good attention.
Whether you are teaching your child household rules, or common manners used in society, the trick is the same. If you model the behavior, instruct them on appropriate actions and reward their attempts when doing it right, soon good habits will be formed and there will be more harmony in your home.
A. Lynn Scoresby, founder and president of My Family Track , First Answers , and Achievement Synchrony , and has been a marriage and family psychologist for more than 35 years. He has published more than 20 books and training programs.