How to Encourage Discipline in Children: Principle #4

We have been discussing some key principles for caregivers to help children maintain appropriate boundaries, structure and self-regulation. Principle #4 is vital to help children understand the rules: caregivers should draw up a list of absolute, non-negotiable rules and standards that the child must adhere to. Then, caregivers should communicate them clearly to the child and be consistent in enforcing them. Below are several helpful ideas in what rules to make and how to communicate them.

How to make and enforce rules of discipline for children

Clearly established rules are helpful for the child and parent or caregiver.
Clearly established rules are helpful for the child and parent or caregiver.

First, caregivers need to recognize that not every behavior requires a rule. To prevent frustrating both caregiver and child, rules need to be kept to a minimum so that they can be consistently enforced. Too many rules create a negative environment for both caregiver and child and become too cumbersome to enforce.

Rules typically fall into three categories: safety, morality and social-conventional (which deals more with structures and routines in the home or care-giving environment). This last category reflects values that are considerate of others like respect and courtesy.

Here are some examples of each category.

  • Physical safety – Do not run across the street without looking. Or, do not talk to a stranger or get into a car with a stranger.
  • Morality –  There will be no violence (hitting, biting) in the house. Or, you need to respect other people’s property.
  • Social/conventional –  Everyone will pick up his or her own toys and clothes. Or,  children must adhere to the bedtime routine.

Communicate rules in simple language

I suggest no more than 4 or 5 rules per category. Also, word them in a way that the child can understand. 

Talk through how the rules need to be applied to everyday situations. This will help the child be clear about each one and how it affects them and others. The more clearly a child understands why the rules are in place and their impact, the easier it will be for him or her to comply.

Each of us who have children can attest, children have a lot of difficulty remembering rules, particularly when they are involved in activities they really enjoy. So, it is quite helpful for caregivers to write down the rules or use pictures to make them understandable and clear for the children who do not know how to read. 

Once the rules are explained and understood, it is critical that they be enforced consistently. Once children feel they can break the rules, they will have no reason to keep desired behavior going indefinitely.

The danger in making assumptions about rules

Though some of these points of application may seem to be common sense, those of us who work with children and families recognize that many times parents and caregivers make assumptions about what children know and understand about the rules.  With the changes in growth,  brain development, ages and stages and other circumstances, the vital rules can be easily lost and the family can slip into chaos.

It is also helpful to revisit the rules every year to see if the environment or circumstances have changed which may merit a slight or significant revision of the rules. Revisiting the rules also keeps them clear, relevant and communicated on a more regular basis. 

We all need structure and boundaries in order to keep our lives orderly, safe and moving in a positive direction.  If that is true for adults, it is essential for our children. 

Gerry Vassar,  President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Information taken from Pathways to Competence, Sarah Landy, p. 403-404.





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *