Making Rules for Children Reinforces Love

Making and enforcing rules is a fundamental—and difficult—part of every parent's role. Experts, though, point to the following several specific areas where a parent can use limits to show respect for a child's feelings and at the same time enhance the child's health.

Sleep

Every child needs rest, but exactly how much depends on your individual child and the child’s age. According to the National Sleep Foundation, newborns sleep 11 to 18 hours a day in total, broken up with only one to three hours of intervening wakefulness. Over the rest of the year, the infants will ultimately sleep nine to 12 hours through the night with several naps. School-age children typically need 11 to 12 hours of sleep per night.

Set the hour of bedtime after taking into consideration your child's physiological needs and the family routine. Remember, however, that many U.S. children get too little sleep and that setting a late bedtime may be robbing them of the sleep they need. Consistency is important, because a good routine helps the quality of sleep. Once you have established a sleep routine for your child, maintain it. That means bedtime and rising time for children should be the same throughout the week, including weekends. As children enter their teen years, you can add flexibility to the schedule because of social needs.  

Food

Research shows that diet is critical to a child's normal growth and continuing health.  Ensuring a nutritionally adequate diet in children is often difficult, because many youngsters will resist trying new food. Parents should accept this and find ways to work around a child's constantly changing tastes. It is also helpful to remember that small children may be unwilling to try a new food the first several times it is served to them, but often they will eventually try it and even like it. Young children have little control over what they are fed. As they get older, however, parents must be imaginative to overcome eating hurdles. One point to remember is that children will eat when they are hungry. If your child refuses to eat what you've prepared, it is entirely appropriate to cover the meal and refrigerate it. When your child later asks for food, reheat the meal and present it to the child. Eventually, when your child realizes that the meal is the only food that will be offered, he or she will eat. When this is done consistently, meals will no longer be a point of contention. But it is important not to let the dinner table turn into a battleground. Remain calm but firm if your child asks for something else at mealtimes.  It is imperative that you make sure meals are both nutritious and appealing. When you are consistent, the good eating habits learned in childhood should continue into adolescence and adulthood.

Noise

Children can be taught to use quieter "inside" voices. You have to set an example. The louder you yell, frequently, the louder it gets.

Aggression in children

Aggressive behavior can appear at any age, even in a child as young as age 18 months. Because of this, it's important that parents start early to teach their children nonviolent ways to handle frustration.

Separate children from the conflict and put them into "timeout." On the other hand, when children behave well and resolve disputes without aggression, they should be praised and possibly rewarded, depending on the age. Remember, however, that food of any type shouldn't be used as a reward.

Parents need to rise above their own shortcomings in order to properly teach children how to resolve disagreements. Simple nonviolent problem-solving strategies for young children can include drawing straws, flipping a coin, playing “one potato two,” or even setting a time to teach taking turns. Older children and adolescents will need more sophisticated intervention. 

Conducting a 'timeout'

Disciplining a toddler requires self-discipline on your part. Leave your ego and temper out of it—you're older and wiser than your child. Be calm, and be consistent.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following method for "timeout" discipline. It works best with children from 2 to 5 years of age.

  • Make sure your child knows what behavior you want stopped. Warn the child that continuing the behavior will result in a timeout.

  • Select a boring place for timeouts—a room or area with no distractions.

  • If the child has been warned and continues breaking the rule, put the child in the timeout area immediately. Usually one warning is advised, unless it is aggressive behavior. Tell your child in as few words as possible and without strong emotion what they did wrong. Tell the child how long the timeout will be and set a clock or timer in view. Timeout is usually one minute per year of the child's age, so at age 3, a child would be in timeout for 3 minutes.

  • If the child cries, screams, or leaves the timeout area, start the timeout over—returning the child to the area and resetting the timer.

  • Each time the child breaks this particular rule, enforce a timeout. Praise the child if the rule is observed. Once the timeout is up, help your child return to play.

Aggression in preteens and teens

Aggression during adolescence is different from aggression in children. Aggression at this age usually means that either earlier childhood aggressive behavior was never channeled properly or that new, and often significant, problems are developing.  Although parents can set rules, reward, punish, and when necessary, bribe, modifying the willful behavior of an adolescent can be challenging and may require professional help, depending on its severity.