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Getting Your Children To Follow Rules


Conflicts with your kids are inevitable. There are plenty of opportunities for a battle of wills between you and your children. But they do not have to be losing battles for either party. There are many effective and ineffective ways to approach the issue of children who disobey. Implementing the correct approach can go a long way to calm conflicts.

Ineffective Approaches

You have tried everything, and your children still do not do what you ask. It is frustrating when they refuse to listen. Your children may not be paying attention to you because you have been using the wrong approach. The following are some ineffective ways parents have used to get their children to comply with their wishes.


Bribing your child teaches him to hold out until the price is right. Why should he clean his room when you ask him to if he knows that you will soon be offering a new video game if he will just make his bed? Also, bribes train your child that the only motivation for doing things is a reward rather than mere accomplishment.


When you use force to discipline your child, she learns to fear you. Spanking her for disobedience teaches her that it is acceptable for a big person to hurt a little person when feeling upset or angry. In addition, your child may become immune to spanking and you will have to use more and more force to achieve the same effect, which can lead to child abuse. 


You don’t like it when people tell you what to do, so why would your children? Commanding your child is futile. Your child is struggling to establish autonomy and will rebel if you tell him what to do.


Repeatedly threatening your child causes her to ignore you until you again resort to threats. When you don’t follow through with these threats, your child learns that you don’t mean what you say. If you do follow through, your child will resent you because she is doing things solely to avoid the consequences you institute.    

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Do not be disappointed in yourself if you have been using these forms of discipline. At one time or another, all parents have. However, there are preferred ways to get a positive response from your children.

Effective Approaches

The following suggestions do not require much effort and are low in emotional stress. They also allow you to prevent rather than react to problems. And the rewards will be remarkable.


Recognize your child’s feelings about the task. This helps your child feel as though you respect his opinions and keeps the situation free of conflict. Also, let him know that it is okay to have negative feelings toward a task but that it still needs to be done. We all have to do things we don’t want to do.  


When giving a task to your child, make sure you have her undivided attention. Look directly into her eyes, or touch her on the arm before you begin speaking. This will help her better understand, retain, and follow through with the task.


Unpleasant consequences often naturally occur from not following a rule. As long as these are not harmful to your child, allow them to happen. For example, if your child wakes up late, have him eat breakfast on the bus ride to school. This will make him uncomfortable, and he will be motivated to get up earlier.


Sign up your child in extracurricular activities. Encouraging participation in these structured environments will teach your child that rules are everywhere and need to be followed.


Give your child reasons why you want her to complete a certain task. As an example, you can say, “I want you to have nice clothes, but they won’t stay that way unless you take care of them. Please hang them up instead of throwing them on the floor.”


Direct your child in steps. Too many or unclear directions can make your child feel overwhelmed. Instead of a general command to “clean your room,” tell your child to “make the bed.” When he has completed that, tell him to “pick up the toys.” In this way, your child will be better equipped to follow through with your instructions.


Bargaining with your children fosters cooperation. In his article, “Loving Discipline,” S. F. Enos suggests a simple three-step method to begin negotiations with your children. 

  • Step 1: Brainstorm. Include your children in this process. Ease into this by discussing things that are exciting to your children, such as getting a family pet or where to spend summer vacation. After your children are accustomed to coming up with ideas, address the issues of household chores or curfews. If you have preschool-aged children, they may be more comfortable with having choices presented to them rather than coming up with their own ideas.

  • Step 2: Define terms. Listen to your children and take their suggestions into account. However, as the parent, you make the final decisions. Tell your children what you are willing to do and give based upon what they do and give in return. Clearly defining individual responsibility lessens misunderstandings, which lead to conflict. 

  • Step 3: Specify consequences. Establish consequences that are related to the problem. For example, a child who refuses bedtime shouldn’t be “punished” with no TV time the next day. A more appropriate consequence would be no story at bedtime the next night. This way, your child can see the connection between fussing at bedtime and losing a bedtime privilege. Also, allowing your children to have a say in this step will make them more willing to agree on the repercussions. Showing respect for your children and allowing them to play a part in making the decisions that govern their daily lives fosters cooperation.


If your child has difficulty with a task, practice with her until she can do it alone. If your child isn’t sure how to set the table, she probably won’t do it when asked. Practice with your child a few times until she knows exactly what setting the table entails. Once she feels comfortable with the task, she will more readily comply with your requests.


Situations will occur where you can review the rules with your child. Going out to eat provides an excellent opportunity to go over appropriate ways to behave at a restaurant. While you’re there, if your child “forgets” a rule and starts misbehaving, simply remind him of the rule.


When you ask your child to do something, use a calm and clear voice. Keep your voice pleasant but firm. When you use a loud and demanding voice, you will automatically be tuned out. Also, don’t ask things of your child in favor form. You all live in the home, so you all need to share the responsibilities.


Many opportunities will arise where your child will want to do something “special.” These are perfect times for bargaining. If your child wants to spend the night at a friend’s, have her fold the laundry before she goes.

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Not all of these approaches will work every time for every child, but a few of them will certainly improve your child’s ability to carry out instructions consistently. You won’t have to nag at your children, and they will feel appreciated. Remember, getting along peacefully requires a little give and take. For example, you and your spouse won’t always agree on every principle. Letting your children see the two of you deliberate over issues teaches them that the world isn’t full of perfect harmony. There will be times in the lives of your children, at school or work, where people won’t always agree. But due to your example of compromise and their ability to follow rules, your children will be prepared.

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