Counseling Corner: Rules for parents
Rules for parents
by Jennifer Pierce, LCPC
Licensed Professional Counselor
As we approach the new school year, many parents breathe a sigh of relief. But alas, a parent's job is never done. We may not always want to admit it, but as parents, we are the greatest influence in our child's behaviors. Which means that we can shape even the most unruly child. But when did they hand out the parenting instruction manual? Nobody taught me how to parent, and I certainly don't want to be like my parents! So, we usually just wing it or use trial and error.
Well, I never got an instruction manual, but psychologists have done a lot of research on parenting and learning. So, here are a few parenting tips that should help start the school year right.
We all know that children need discipline, so step one is to create rules. These can be whatever you want, so long as they are clear, specific, and measurable. Your child has to understand the rules before he/she can follow them (of course this also means they have to listen to the rules, which is a whole other problem). So, "clean your room" is not a good rule because it is not clear, specific, or measurable. A better rule would be, "you must put away all toys, books, and clothes to where they belong before 7pm every day." This is specific, simple language, with details and a timeframe. The difference may seem petty, but it will help avoid the "I did clean my room" argument. When the rules are specific, there is no question as to what "clean your room" means. Write down the rules and post them in a central location so they can review if questions arise.
If we have rules, we must have consequences for when these rules are broken. There are a few different strategies for successfully punishing bad behavior. Research has shown us that positive reinforcement works better than punishment. So, I would encourage you to devise a reward system for your children's good behavior. This can be as simple as "if you put away your toys, we get to play a game after dinner" or a chart of daily smiley face stickers adding up to a new toy. The options are limitless. Ask your child what reward they would like and what they think they should do to earn it. You may be surprised how hard they are willing to work for what they want.
Of course, you will also have to use punishments. Again, it is important that your children understand the consequences for breaking a rule. So, consequences should be decided ahead of time and posted next to the rules. Research tells us that in order for punishments to be effective, they must be immediate (or as soon as possible) and severe. How severe? Severe enough to make it effective, which will be different for each child.
The rules and punishments are up to you, and there is no instruction manual. The key is to stick to the rules and consequences, no matter what! If you let it slide this time, you are almost guaranteed to see more bad behavior in the future!
Jennifer Pierce, LCPC is the owner and primary therapist of Hagerstown Counseling, LLC. She can be contacted at 240-347-4845 or her website www.HagerstownCounselingLLC.com.