Raising Children and Adolescents

Raising Children and Adolescents

In couples
and family counseling, we are sometimes asked if we have a magic wand or pill
to make children behave.  Many parents
feel frustrated and overwhelmed about child rearing from time to time. Although
there is no magical answer to changing your child’s behavior, there are some
strategies that can be helpful. One strategy is having family rules. Almost
every family has rules, but are those rules posted? From our experience working
with families, we can tell you that unless your rules are posted their existence
is questionable and although individuals can recount the rules, rarely matched
perfectly. Rules have varying intentions and purposes and come in different forms,
but generally tend to work have two common traits: First, they are specific and
second, they are easy to understand.  Here are two types of rules we have
found in our discussions with families that may clarify the importance of these
two traits.

‘Do’ rules

‘Do’ rules
are teaching tools, and they are effective in most situations because they
guide your child’s behavior in a positive way. Here are some examples:

Sit down to eat.

Speak in a polite voice.

Wear your seatbelt in the car.

Be gentle with each other.

Be home by curfew.

It is better
to have more ‘do’ than ‘don’t’ rules.

‘Don’t’ rules

Use ‘don’t’
rules when it is difficult to explain exactly what to do instead. Here are some

Don’t spit.

Don’t ask for things in the supermarket.

Don’t get in a car with any other driver who has been drinking.

Tips and strategies:

First, as
the old saying goes, “Less is more”.  Have
two to four clear household rules, discuss them with your children, explain the
consequences for not following through with the rules and then post them some
place that you can refer to them when needed. A quick reminder is always good.
“What are the rules in this house?”  Too
many rules are overwhelming to both parents and children and ultimately both
give up on the rules.

A second
strategy is having consequences for your child’s behavior. Don’t forget that
consequences are both positive and negative. If your child’s behavior is
negative, the consequence is negative. If your child’s behavior is positive
then the consequence is positive. Parents often wonder why they need to use
positive consequences. Positive consequences encourage your child to continue
to do that behavior. Use things your child enjoys as positive consequences.
Play a game with him/her, let her/him choose what you will have for dinner,
generally spending time with your child is a great positive consequence.
Negative consequences also work best if you take away something that is
meaningful to your child, such as a favorite toy, friends or a cell phone. For
younger children planned ignoring works very well. Planned Ignoring is paying no
attention to a child when they misbehave – not that you are ignoring the
behavior, you are just not giving attention. It means not looking at them and
not talking to them while they behave that way. For example, if you’re having a
family meal and your child is bouncing up and down on the seat, you could leave
them out of the conversation and not look at them until they stop. When they
stop, you could say, ‘I love it when you sit still on your chair at dinner. Why
don’t you tell us what you did at preschool today?’  The key is to reward your child with lots of
attention when they behave well – but don’t give them any attention when they
behave badly.


The Good Kid
Book: How to Solve the 16 Most Common Behavior Problems by Howard N. Sloane.
Published by Research Press, Inc. Copyright ©1988.

How to
Behave so your children will too! By Sal Severe, Published by Penguin Group,
Inc. Copyright © 1997, 2000