Play by the Rules
You have a rule that your child must help put away his toys before bedtime stories. But you're often too tired to enforce that routine, so you pick up his toys yourself before settling down for the umpteenth reading of One Duck Stuck. Lately, however, you've begun to worry about being too lax, so tonight you insist your son put his blocks away. Instead, he lies on the floor and whines. Frustrated, you put his blocks away and pronounce, "No stories tonight!" His whimpers turn into wails.
The Problem: Inconsistency invites power struggles, since most kids, from toddlers to teens, will push to see where their real limits are, says David Walsh, PhD, author of No: Why Kids -- of All Ages -- Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It (Free Press). In the process, children may gain a false sense of power, but they lose the sense of security that comes with defined boundaries. "Kids need predictability to feel safe," explains Walsh.
The Fix: Choose a few family rules that you care enough about to consistently enforce. "You don't have to fix everything. The goal is not to have a perfectly behaved child," reminds Walsh. "The goal is to raise a confident, competent child who can recognize and respect limits." Explain the rules, and the consequences of breaking the rules, to your child. If possible, consequences should flow naturally from the misbehavior so your child can plainly see the cause and effect. For example, if the rule is no playing with your food, a logical consequence might be taking the child's plate away. Give him a warning, and let him know what will happen if he ignores you. Emphasize that if he chooses to break a rule, he also chooses the consequence. "This way it's not you inflicting the consequence," explains Walsh. "It's your child choosing the consequence by choosing the behavior."