The idea of having house rulesor family rules sounds like tyranny, the last thing parents want for their kids. But when one of said house rules for kids is done right, the result is structure and predictability. The family members understand the existence and purpose of the rule. The kids feels safer, and everyones stress (especially yours) goes down.
Now, theres a big difference between any rule and the right rule. So we asked a variety of child psychologists and therapists to suggest family rules and house rules that parents of children 4 to 7 years old should consider enforcing. Some are for the kids, and some are for parents. But, in truth, all rules are for the adults to follow and take the lead on.
First, one caveat: A list stuck to the fridge isnt all-powerful. Rules alone wont get the job done, says Dr. Laura Kastner, a family and child psychologist and author of Getting to Calm, the Early Years.There needs to be context, fairness, and understanding. In other words, family rules have to be clear. More than that, the enforcer of said rules (i.e. you and your spouse) have to be clear, so the behavior can become automatic. Stick to this, and youll see results.
Here, then, are the rules parents should consider enforcing in their home.
Rule #1: Use Fewer Words
This isnt for the kids. You want them to talk. This is for you. Because, per Kastner, adults talk way too much like 80 percent too much. What happens is that they end up babbling and a 5-year-old says something like, I hate you, sidetracking the conversation and getting out of any responsibility. Using fewer words helps that.
Using fewer words also applies to praise. Good job means nothing said once. Said constantly, it means even less. The best practice is to save compliments for stuff kids have been struggling with. You really figured out the seat belt. Im impressed! shows your kid that youve had your head up and been noticing, adds Kastner.
Rule #2: Ask for Solutions When Problems Occur
Accidents happen. Rather than asking Why do you keep doing this? the better response is: Wow, look at what you did. What do we do next? That keeps parents from being constantly reactive and, as a result, stressing kids out. Theyre always waiting for you to blow up, says Brian R. King, a social worker and parenting coach. Youre also not swooping in to fix the problem. According to this rule, your child is asked to be resourceful and imaginative, which isnt an issue. If this approach concerns you, just consider how a kid builds anything. They arent encumbered by what doesnt work. Their fix might not be the one, but theyre collaborating and problem-solving, two skills with long-term benefits. Thats what this rule yields.
Rule #3: No Interrupting
Kids believe two things: One, that youre always available. And two: Their needs are paramount. Often, these coalesce when youre on the phone. Just say, Hang on for one second, then, Thank you so much for waiting, with full sincerity. And all you need to do is finish your sentence. This rule may take a while to stick, but it introduces patience and impulse control. Even more than that, it teaches them that theyre not the only people in the family with stuff to get done, offers Dr. Janet Sasson Edgette, child and adolescent psychologist in Exton, Pennsylvania.
Rule #4: If Its Not Yours, Ask Permission
Grabbing is a popular sport among 4- to 7-year-olds. A simple Can I use your truck? is a lesson in boundaries. But since kids are a bundle of impulses, theyll constantly miss the mark. Still, its a good concept, because its ultimately about consent, Kastner says. You ask before you touch someone, and when she says stop, you stop. Its one thing to have heard the phrases. Its another thing to have lived it, says Alison Smith, parenting coach in New Brunswick, Canada. Its also important to model it. One big area? Tickling. The automatic laughter doesnt automatically reflect enjoyment. Once you start, ask if they want more. They get the power of whether it continues.
Rule #4: Clean Up Your Messes
Kids dont long to put stuff away, but they will build up their frustration tolerance by owning what theyve created. Its a pretty straightforward rule until they stall. When that happens, in a calm voice say, Ill leave it up to you, but if you choose not to do this, I cant talk to you right now. You dont give her any reaction, which is what she wants, but youre giving a path back to you, which is really what she wants, says Jude Currier, a licensed psychotherapist in Amherst, New Hampshire. There may be yelling at first, but shell eventually see those tactics dont work and when she completes a task, shell feel some independence and self-esteem.
Rule #6: No Sarcasm Allowed
Your child goes upstairs while company is over. When he comes back down, you greet him with So nice of you to join of us. Cue the buzzer sound. Sarcasm comes with bite and dismissiveness. It has never made anyone feel better, Sasson Edgette says. You may think you know why your child is behaving a certain way, but theres no way to always keep everything in mind. A simple You okay? is plenty. Youre curious. You assume nothing. Theres an invitation to talk and you might hear an explanation. If its valid, validate it. If its not, you can say, That doesnt really work. Either way, youre an understanding guy.
Rule# 7: Let Them Reflect
This ones about your impulse control. When, say, a toy gets thrown, instead of the never-productive response of What the hell? simply ask matter-of-factly, Why did you decide to do that? Youre not looking to stop their emotions or make them feel bad. Youre just getting them to realize that they have choices, something that kids dont immediately realize. This wont transform a 5-year-old, but the concept that alternatives exist is now in play, King says.
Rule #9: First, Calm Down
This is an all-encompassing family rule. Nothing can be discussed if people are freaking out. You need to be in control, so take a fraction of a second to pause before you say or do anything, Smith says. For the kids, make it a game. Play Statues start it before you have to use it, so they know how to respond to Freeze. Injecting laughter reduces the heat, then you can explore the original issue in a non-reactive fashion. The kids will see parents who dont get rattled, know what non-chaos feels like, and can carry that forward.
Rule #9: Chores First, Then You Play
Its the way of the world. You do the hard thing, then you get the reward. Long run, coffee. Work, paycheck. The overall goal is to create happy, competent people. Sometimes, that means being unliked, Kastner says. If the chore is to clean up the blocks, say it, refer back to the rules, then disengage.
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