Getting Your Children to Follow Rules 

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. 

  • Bribes: Bribing your child teaches him to hold out until the price is right. Why should he clean his room when you ask 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.

  • Force: 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.

  • Threats: 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. 

Effective Approaches

  • Acknowledge: 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 it still needs to be done. We all have to do things we don’t want to do.

  • Acquire: 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.

  • Instruct: 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.

  • Specify Consequences: Establish consequences that are related to the problem. For example, a child who refuses bedtime shouldn't be "punished" with no screen 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.

  • Review: 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.