I am often told by parents that they are tired of having to nag their kids all the time. Not only do they hate to have to nag, but their kids hate it and consequently start tuning them out even more. But, “if I stop nagging” they ask me, “how do I get them to follow the rules?”
After lots of advice, talking with the families and attempting many failed strategies, I have found that there are 4 things that parents—or anyone with lots of rules (bosses, teachers, administrators) often forget to do, but really work when trying to set-up their in-house regulations.
1: Actions Speak Louder than Words
You are constantly telling your kids not to eat before dinner, but sometimes they catch you nibbling away on some carrots or potato chips at 5:30. If you don’t follow your own rules, why should anyone else?
This seems simple, but you would be surprised how often kids gripe to me about how they are constantly told to chew with their mouth closed and keep their elbows off the table, but when they look over at dad, he is practically spewing mac and cheese into mom’s water glass. This goes with the saying “Do as I say AND as I act”.
A study by Dr Albert Mehrabian in 1967 found that:
•55% of the meaning people make in their interactions is based on what they see.
•38% is based on how it sounds (voice tone, volume, speed)
•7% is based on the actual words that are being said.
Next time you tell your child what to do, what you actually say might not be important. The way you say it to them, but most importantly, your own actions, will have a greater impact on whether of not your kids follow through. Show them that you respect your own rules, and they might too.
Obviously there are some house rules you shouldn’t have to follow (bedtime at 8pm), for those “kids only” rules, read on.
2: Explain the Rule
“Do not leave the video game wires all over the living room!” “But, mom why?!” “Because I SAID SO!” I think that “Because I said so is one of the worst things a parent can say to a child (Because I am the mother/father, Because I am older/an adult also count). It’s somewhat condescending and would make your child see it as ‘unfair’, no matter how reasonable the rule is.
Yes, sometimes kids will ask why to be irritating, but a lot of the time there is genuine confusion behind the question. If you want your child to not leave his sneakers on the floor, not curse in front of the neighbors or clean up the dog poop, they will have way more incentive if you explain: someone could trip over their shoes and hurt themselves, cursing is not polite because it can offend people and if we do not clean up the dog poop we will not be able to play on the lawn.
I don’t mean you should scream when you trip over his shoes or step on dog poop, but sit down and explain it to them when you are calm—preferably when you first make the rule.
3: Write it Down
Many have toyed with the idea of having your kids sign “contracts” for the house rules. This might work for some. But generally writing the house rules down somewhere out of the way but in plain sight (cabinet door, over the washing machine etc etc) can help the rules feel more official.
When I have asked kids why they do not do one of their particular chores, the answer has often been, “well, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal” or “I forgot.” Write it down and it will make the rule feel more formal and permanent.
4: Reward, don’t Punish
I am a huge fan of positive reinforcement. When I was younger I had a serious problem with the microwave. I would heat up soup and leave the splatters all over the microwave. I don’t know how many times my mom told me to wipe up the microwave, and yet I continued to not clean up after myself. I actually started to clean the microwave when my mom started to thank people in the house who did little things to make her life easier. This made me want to be thanked as well, thus encouraging me to start on a new routine.
It sucks to only here about what you do not do, thanking your kids or saying ‘good job’ verbally or with a quarter is great incentive to keep following the rules.
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