Children will behave better when their world has clear rules and when they know what will happen if they break the rules—which is called “consequences” of their behavior. Teaching a toddler to follow the rules you set is one of the most important responsibilities of a positive parenting Baby Buffer!
Here are two things to remember when setting rules for your children’s behavior:
- A rule is a pre-determined behavioral expectation that includes a stated outcome. For example, saying, “The rule is that we put our toys back in the toy basket before we go to our friend’s house to play. When we follow that rule, we can go to play with our friends.”
- Teach your child that following, not breaking, the rules will bring her rewards. In the example above, the Baby Buffer told what would happen when the child FOLLOWED the rule!
Practicing following rules gives your toddler a chance to do what you ask, as well as get positive feedback when you praise his doing so. Through this labeled praise, your toddler will recognize that following the rules gets her the positive attention she craves from you. Establishing and enforcing rules are effective problem-solving techniques, as well.
Just getting into first gear in his first year of life, 18- 24 month olds feel the joy of exploration from their toes to their teeth. But they don’t automatically know what’s off-limits and what isn’t. By two years of age, however, they can learn this distinction, once you have set them straight. Keep in mind that you need to give your toddler opportunity to practice following your rules, in order for them to become habits.
All children need boundaries, and feel safer and more secure when they know your expectations of behaving within those boundaries. Your toddler is more likely to follow your rules, therefore, when she knows she can do what she wants, after a task is complete.
Practice following rules by using this technique:
1) Decide on a rule that you want your child to follow. Remember that it is the positive statement of a behavior that you WANT your child to do, as well as the outcome and consequence of doing so.
2) Praise your child’s behavior when she follows the rule. Don’t praise your child, praise what she is doing. For example, instead of saying, “You’re a good girl for sitting quietly at Grandma’s house,” say, “It’s good you’re sitting quietly at Grandma’s house, so she can tell us what the doctor said.” Focus your praise on the behavior, because that it the rule you want her to practice. (See: Label Your Praise!)
3) If your child does not follow your rule, you know that he needs more practice doing so or may not understand what you are asking her to do. Practice with him while you’re in the car or playing in the bathtub, for example. Say, “When someone says, ‘Sit quietly, that means that we don’t talk. When I say, ‘Sit quietly,” what do you do?” Practice the rule—sitting quietly, for example—several times each day until it is the automatic response or habit, after you ask her to sit quietly.
If your child has a problem following your rules after repeated practice, seek help from her doctor to determine if she needs to work with a qualified professional to learn how to be compliant or if she has a problem, medically, in hearing or understanding your directions.