Your seven-year-old knows it’s times for bed time, but that doesn’t stop him from putting together a case worthy of the Supreme court. He begs, pleads, until you cave in or yell at him from frustration.
Kids do crave structure and routine, but at this age they’re starting to ask questions and voice their feelings. That’s actually a good thing—but you do want to assert your authority and give a positive and healthy outlet for his dissent. Here are some tips.
Express rules in a positive way
It’s harder for kids to follow rules that are framed negatively. For example, ‘Don’t fight’ is vague. Better to say ‘Take turns with your toys’ or ‘Say what you want with an ‘indoor voice.”
You can also use simple and upbeat statements that apply to the whole family. For example, when you say, ‘Put away your toys!’ you can say that this rule makes it easier to keep the house clean. Add, ‘Everybody helps, and when you put away toys, you help!’ This is a good family rule that sends a positive message: ‘We’re a team and we all have a role for keeping the household running smoothly.’ Try rephrasing your rules and see what a difference it makes!
Explain the logic of the rule
Your child is more likely to follow a rule if you explain the reason for it. ‘You need to sleep early because sleep is when your body becomes stronger and your mind rests. If you don’t sleep, you’ll feel bad in the morning.’ Kids then realize that rules are a form of parental protection rather than top-down commands.
Get him to be part of making the rules
Don’t make things too open-ended, but do help him thresh out the details within what you find acceptable. For example, for ‘share your toys’ he can decide how long a turn should be.
Balance consistency and flexibility
Consistency is crucial or your child will be confused. (Read our article if you and your husband disagree on what rules to enforce.) If there are special occasions, make it clear that it’s a treat. For example, your one-hour TV rule can be stretched to two when there’s a great family movie on. But do make it clear that this is an exception. It’s better to not make a rule than to have one that you constantly break.
Choose logical consequences
You need to help your child understand that their own behavior has an impact on other people and themselves. So the consequence for breaking a rule has to be related to the infraction. If he’s acting up at dinner, have him leave the table as opposed to canceling the playdate the next day.
Your child may outgrow certain rules. You may have to adjust bedtime as your child grows older and needs less sleep than she did a few years earlier.
Photo from medimanage.com