The Surprising Secret to Raising a Well-Behaved Kid

Set Firm Rules -- and Expect Respect

Kids who believe they can do anything they feel like doing, and get whatever they want, tend to be the ones who act out by whining or throwing a tantrum when their demands aren't met. "Children who understand that there are well-defined boundaries learn how to self-regulate and to respect limits," says Hal Runkel, family therapist and author of ScreamFree Parenting.

  • Tell them why. You don't have to give your children elaborate explanations for why you expect certain behaviors from them. But if your child understands that there are simple reasons for your rules, he'll realize they aren't arbitrary and will be more likely to comply. Tell him, for example, "You need to go to bed at eight o'clock because your body needs a lot of sleep to stay strong and healthy." Or "You have to put away your toys so we'll know where to find them next time you want to play."
  • Offer lots of praise. "Whether it's making the bed, helping set the table, or letting his sister play with his blocks, make sure you reinforce rule-following by celebrating your child's successes," says Larry J. Koenig, PhD, author of Smart Discipline. Say, "It's great that you remembered the rule to make your bed. I'm so proud when you behave like a big boy!" or, "You were so polite to say 'please' when you asked me for that crayon. Good job!"
  • Follow rules yourself. "Hanging your coat in the closet when you get home, putting your dirty dishes in the sink, not screaming when you're frustrated ... doing these things will show children that just as they have rules to follow, so do you," says Judy Arnall, author of Discipline Without Distress. "When kids see you behaving well, they'll want to do the same."
  • Cultivate a conscience. If a young child feels bad when he hasn't followed your rule, don't immediately try to minimize his discomfort. Feeling a bit of guilt is an essential part of learning to determine right from wrong. "Use it as a teaching opportunity," suggests Dr. Hall. "Say, 'I know you're feeling bad. We all make mistakes, but we try to learn how to act next time.'"

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