As the parent of a two and a half year old with a strong will and curiosity, I have given a lot of thought to the topic of discipline. Though some of my friends and readers have asked for my take on discipline, I haven’t yet broached the subject on my blog in-depth, and I’m not sure that I will get into the usual debates. Children’s diets, sleeping habits, and discipline seem to be among the top most controversial topics discussed on blogs, and I’m not sure I am interested in opening up to the possibility of a judgment fueled debate in my space. Trying to keep it a little Zen here, but I always reserve the right to change my mind if the muse inspires.
HOWEVER, I think most parents, educators, and child development experts will agree that rule-setting is an important piece of children’s discipline. So today, I’ve decided to share our family rules as well as some social story resources that we are using to help V to learn and understand them.
We have had consistent rule setting in our house for a while: rules that both my husband and I agree upon and address when the rule is broken. One day, while on a play date, I noted that my friend had posted a list of their family rules for their son on a little wipe board within his viewpoint. When discussing behavioral concerns, she would refer to the rules by number which indicated to me that she and her son had shared previous conversations where rules were reviewed. I thought that was a great idea. Though we educate V on our family rules through repetition and behavioral discussions, actually posting a concrete list and inviting her to learn the rules with us made perfect sense. In fact, it’s what occurs in most classroom settings as part of classroom behavioral management.
So I sat down and drafted a set of rules which my husband reviewed, edited, and printed for our gal. We reviewed them with her in a quasi family meeting and posted them at her eye level so we can reference them with her as needed.
I would like to differentiate our rules from “limits” which we also have defined in our house. We have established limits about treats, juice, TV viewing and other topics that are generally followed but we can be flexible about if the occasion warrants. Limits address things V wants to do but that aren’t permissible ad nauseam. Rules address her behaviors. Knowing the limits helps V to understand what to expect from us, but limits are more malleable, while rules are consistently reinforced (at least we try!).
- Respect other people’s bodies (no hitting, kicking, biting, licking; stop when asked)
- Be kind and gentle to others
- Use your listening ears when Mom and Dad are talking
- Help with chores and cleaning up when Dad and Mom ask you to help
- Stop, look, listen, and hold an adult’s hands when crossing the street or in parking lots
- Don’t go anywhere with someone unless Mom or Dad say it’s ok
- Use your big girl words (not whines) when you are upset about something
- Respect toys, books, and belongings (no throwing, ripping, smashing)
- Use big girl manners (say please, thank you, excuse me, sorry, and excuse me to get down from the table)
- Tell the truth
I know that learning family rules will be an ongoing process. Rules will be tweaked as V grows and matures. At some point, we’ll invite her to participate in the family rule making process as we teach her how to handle conflict and emotions. Some of these rules are good reminders even for us (be kind and gentle, using listening ears, no whining, using manners), and I am reminded daily how self-discipline and emotional regulation is something that we pass onto our children by example. Striving to set a good example is an ongoing challenge as we wrestle with our own complicated histories, patterns, and emotions but M and I are committed to improving our efforts and selves as we try to be better parents for our little gal.
When setting rules, it is important for us to remember the developmental limitations of our little V. Rules are used to guide her behavior and help us know which behaviors require immediate, developmentally appropriate consequences. I think much of the discipline debate centers around these questions: how many and what rules to establish (are you relaxed or strict with your expectations of your child); what behaviors constitute a violation of the rules; and what are appropriate and effective consequences.
We struggle to find the right answers to these questions, and while I have read, considered, and tried many approaches with regard to discipline, I feel every parent and child find a different balance that more or less works for them. The important thing is that consequences are developmentally appropriate (which some parents struggle to understand without education or previous experience with young children), that they respect the physical and emotional well-being of the child, and that they are applied consistently. I think there are a rare few parents (if any) who can honestly claim to do all of this perfectly and I think many parents wrestle throughout the parenting journey to adjust rules and develop appropriate, effective consequences. I know that I will have (and already have had) many successes and mistakes over the years.
For me, it’s important that the rules we create help V to respect people and property. By setting these expectations for her, we are communicating that they are valued and important and I hope it will help her to learn good social boundaries with others. We have experienced times when our child was the “model child”, following her rules and treating others with respect. We have also experienced times when our gal was frustrated, angry, and aggressive toward us or her little friends. Toddlers do not yet have fully developed brain pathways that allow them to regulate their emotions. They get easily flooded, as do many of us adults! They need boundaries to help them understand what behaviors are hurtful to others so as they develop the capacity for self-control, they have other resources to draw upon when experiencing challenging emotions.
V has responded positively to her rules, often reciting them back to us when we have “behavioral discussions.” She proudly tells us, “I followed my rules! No hitting, no biting, no kicking!” when she has a particularly great stretch of kind behavior. We make sure to reinforce those times with specific, positive praise so she knows that we are proud of her kind and loving actions too!
Using Social Stories
Our daughter, much like her parents, learns through story-telling and reading as well as her real life experiences. We have selected some social stories to help our little one learn about rules and have found them to be a helpful tool when discussing positive ways to handle emotions, the impact on others when rules are broken, and establishing what kind and helpful behavior looks like. I know we will be adding to this list through the years and welcome hearing about any helpful titles you may want to share in the comment section. I also welcome hearing about the rules that guide your family! As always, thank you for keeping comments positive and respectful so that everyone feels welcome to share.
Teeth Are Not For Biting by Elizabeth Verdick
Hands are Not for Hitting by Elizabeth Verdick
(and the whole Best Behavior Series by Free Spirit Publishing)
Be Polite and Kind by Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed
(This is one of V’s current FAVORITE reads. Seriously, she loves it.)
Listen and Learn by Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed
(and the whole Learning to Get Along Series by Free Spirit Publishing)
*Incidentally, I did not know until I searched for the links to the above titles for this post that Free Spirit Publishing published both series of books that we’ve been reading! I am not being compensated for recommending these titles, but I encourage you to check out their website for additional resources.
QEB Everybody Feels… (Happy, Angry, Sad, Scared) Series by Jane Bingham
(V had us read the one on anger four times in a row…until Mommy suggested exploring one of the other four titles. She told us that “When you are angry, you feel shaky and hot!” demonstrating it for us by tensing up her body and clenching her fists! At first reading, she is already learning so much from these wonderful titles passed onto us by my mother.)