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Preventing Family Headaches — Using The Three “R’s” (Rules, Rituals, and Rewards) In Parenting

By Andy Eig PhD.


Since my last article, you all have become experts in giving time-outs. For some of you, it has worked out wonderfully – for others, well, not so much. You have been doling time-outs so frequently that you feel more like a hockey referee giving penalties than a parent. So, let us discuss how to prevent time-outs and cranky behavior in your 3 to 5 year old.


Before we go any further, I want to throw out a word of caution. We are not out to sculpt perfectly behaved children. All children need time be grumpy, defiant, and even unruly at times. Challenging parents and sticking up for themselves builds strength of character in your children. That being said, all children need sensible rules and limits in order to feel safe and to grow into productive members of society. They also need to feel a sense of empowerment and enjoyment when they are behaving well. In order to keep the parental headaches of nasty disruptive children away, we need to use the three “R’s” of parenting: rules, rituals and rewards.


Rules: We all need rules. You and I need rules and so do your kids. Exactly what the rules are in each household will depend on the parents own values. As a guideline, you want family rules to help keep children safe and to help them know, understand and follow the conventions of society. Rules in the household need to be sensible and clear to your three to five year old. Perhaps more important than what the actual rules are, each parent must agree on them and enforce them consistently. I call this the united front of parenthood.


Rituals: Kids do well with a structured day. They need to have daily rituals and know what is going to happen next. For instance, kids need to have a wake up time, stimulating play time, a bed time, bath time, meal and snack time. Most days this should follow the same predictable progression.


Rewards: How do you get your kids to follow the rewards and rituals I just have talked about? Take one guess. Rewards. Most kids (if not all) listen and behave better when positively motivated. Most of the current child behavioral research concurs that kids feel much better about themselves earning rewards rather than avoiding punishments. Set up a reward system for your child if they are having difficulty following the guidelines of the day. One great way is to have a reward chart that your child helps design. For each task of the day, your child gets a sticker or a very small reward if he or she does it well. Brushing teeth gets a sticker. Going to sleep and not coming out of your room once “Good Night” is said deserves another sticker. At the end of the week, your child can get a small toy if they earn enough stickers. E-beanstalk has so many inexpensive developmentally appropriate toys to choose from that you and your child can order on line.


By using rules, rituals, and rewards, your family can have more time to enjoy each other. Try it out.


Using rewards rather than punishments will go a long way in motivating your child and building positive self-esteem.


If you liked this article, you may also want to read our other developmental articles:


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Guidelines for Summer Activities Gopi K. Patel, MSE.d
Learning Through Movement… A Sensory-Rich Way to Help Children Barbara Greenspan, OT
Five Elements of Successfully Disciplining Your Toddler Andy Eig, PhD.
Preventing Family Headaches Andy Eig, PhD.

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Making Room for Two Andy Eig, PhD.
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Using the  5  7 Senses Barbara Greenspan, OT
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What to Expect During the Second Year of Your Baby's Life Barbara Greenspan, OT
What to Expect During the First Year of Your Baby's Life Deanie Barth, MSPT
Psychiatric Medication and Young Children: Is there too much pill popping? Andy Eig, PhD.
Exersaucers, Swings and Jumpers— A help or hindrance to development? Deanie Barth, MSPT
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