Parenting

How to Help Your Child Follow the Rules

November 26, 2013

Children ask a lot of “Why” questions. Children can use “Why” questions to gain information about the world around them and to satisfy their curiosity. They can also use “Why” questions to let you know that they are worried. They can say, “Why do I have to go to the dentist?”

Kids can also use “Why” questions as a way to wiggle out of the limits parents set for them. This can be especially true around Chanukah time (or any holiday for that matter).

  • “Why do I have to write these thank you notes for my Chanukah presents? Why should I do something I don’t want to do!”
  • “Why do I have to share my new toys with my cousins? Why can’t they just bring their own toys?”
  • “Why can’t I have another sufganiya? It’s Chanukah!”

When my kids ask me these type of “Why” questions I get confused. I start to think, “Hmm, they have a good point. Do they really have to write thank you notes? Should she really have to share her new toys with her cousins? Should I just let her have that third jelly doughnut? She’s right … It is Chanukah after all!”

It just goes to show that “Why” questions sometimes are effective in getting parents to change their mind and retract the rules that they have set for their kids. Kids know it. They love a good debate and some kids can argue for hours, using “Why” questions ceaselessly. These type of “Why” questions force us parents into a position where we need to explain ourselves and come up with logical explanations for our every rule. It can wear down the resistance of the most stalwart parent.

The best way parents can stick to their rules even in the face of “Why” questions is to reflect on your children’s feelings and gently turn the question back to them. You can say,

  • “It sounds like you’re annoyed with having to write thank you notes. Why do you think I think it’s so important?”
  • “You’re wishing you didn’t have to share your new toys with your cousins. Why do you think it’s important to share?”
  • “You would love to have unlimited sufganiyot. Why do you think that is not a good idea?”

This technique is a gentle way to let kids know that you are not backing down and you are going to stick to your rules. Most parenting experts have found that kids feel safer and more secure when parents are firm about limits they set. Although kids will fight long and hard, they do not want to lose these arguments. When kids see that you mean business they will learn to stop fighting the family rules. 
Another benefit to this approach is that asking a child “Why” questions require kids to think about why rules are important. It actually reinforces the rules in their minds. Kids will take your answer seriously and will be able to cooperate better. They will stop their arguing and comply more readily.