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Setting Limits: When a child won't follow the rules

Two- and three-year old children follow rules only about 45 percent of the time. One- and one-and-a-half-year olds are even less inclined. This is because they haven't developed their own sense of right and wrong yet, and they rely on parents being around to help them follow the rules. Children of this age also find it difficult to remember rules and to apply them to different situations. They tend to be very impulsive and jump in, before stopping to think about rules and expected behaviour. Parents help children to develop a conscience by bringing up the rules, and reminding them about other people's feelings.

Here's what you can do to help your child understand and follow rules:

  • Make sure your child understands the message - by getting down to her eye level and giving simple instructions that a young child can understand.

  • Insist on a few important and enforced rules, but avoid arguing over minor issues.

  • Give your child choices about some issues. This can reduce confrontations, and make him feel good about himself.

  • Provide consequences that fit the action. For example, if your child tears a book intentionally, remove all her books for a short period of time. Use various discipline techniques, but be prepared to change if a strategy doesn't work.

  • Reward good behaviours, such as saying, "I'm proud of you for cleaning up your toys."

  • Present a united front with other caregivers. Agree that one adult will not give in when the other has already said "No."

  • Remember that discipline is about teaching, not controlling your child. You want your child to gradually take control of intense feelings and to learn what is acceptable behaviour.

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