Children, how to teach respect for the rules

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Marie-Ange Demory
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Respect for the rules

How should we be? Parents ask themselves. Authoritarian or permissive? And how many times a day do we have to feed him? And how much? (...) And do you always have to be with him or can your mother go back to work? And who to entrust it to? (...) Everyone says it about her, and says it without hesitation, as if the exception were a mortal danger. Only the Experts all say the same thing that corresponds to the Theory of Fashion. Poor parents. (Marcello Bernardi, Pina Tromellini, Tenderness and fear)

Between the authoritarian model of the generations of great-grandmothers and unbridled permissiveness, today an authoritative educational approach, yes, but far from any extremism, is widely shared (and recommended) by psychologists and experts of the developmental age.

"To educate - we will never say it enough - derives from educere, that is, to drive without suffocating: affection and reproach, in short, have equal importance", claimed Giovanni Bollea, father of modern infantile neuropsychiatry (Mothers are never wrong, Feltrinelli).

All agree then the rules are used to grow well and live, in the world, together with others. However, very often, it is a real challenge to be heard - most parents think. How then? Here's how to teach children to respect the rules.

In this article


  • Children need rules
  • Children need clear, precise and ...
  • … And appropriate for their age
  • Children take consistency seriously
  • Children do not understand vague and generic requests
  • Is the child screaming? You keep your voice down,
  • Is the child angry? Tell him "I understand you" (but send him to bed anyway)
  • Is the child having a tantrum? Stay in control
  • Learn to communicate feelings
  • Better 'punishment': the child is silent for a few minutes
  • Comparisons and blackmail are not good for children
  • The child respects the rule. Tell him: "Bravo!"
  • Children need confirmation of love

How to teach children to respect the rules? Sperandeo, clinical psychologist of, answers in this podcast

Children need rules

"In recent years, parents attribute an increasingly central role to being loved (so much) by their children. Often, authority is totally replaced by affectivity.

For this, they take away everything that can cause a negative reaction on the part of the child ", says Giuliana Franchini, psychologist and psychotherapist, specialized in developmental age and family support, author of numerous essays (the last with Giuseppe Maiolo, Mamma , what a laugh !, Edizioni Erickson, offers parents insights and valuable advice to face educational challenges even with a dose of humor).

Why is it that today's mothers and fathers manifest this strong request to be loved as much as possible by children? "In today's society, the child, very often, is the narcissistic response to some needs of the adult, he is the one who has to realize an expectation. Now, I can do it even at 50 ... And, in any case, unconscious expectations and not, towards the child, they are often enormous ".

The risk of this attitude on the part of parents is to abdicate the role of educators.

Children need clear, precise and ...

"The child is active force, 'quicksilver' and must be regulated - continues the psychotherapist Franchini - but every rule must make sense based on the age of the child and attention must be paid to the number of those established. For a three-year-old, the rules can be five-six, the minimum ones, which concern his daily life ... Of course, not 20! ".

The rules also have to be established first by mom and dad. For example, "a three-year-old should sleep at least 10 hours a day - and not go to bed at 10 at night - is necessary for his well-being, so in this case, the rule applies. Don't scream but establish together. , as a couple, what rules to give to the child ... When to eat, at what time and how ... If the mother, for example, feeds herself with half a sandwich standing up and then asks her child to eat the soup while sitting , it is difficult to be convincing ".

Yet another example. When we go out on the street we always have to shake hands: 'We do it because we want you to be well as long as possible', you can explain to the child - suggests the expert. It is important to make it clear to the child that he is unable to decide on certain things for himself.

… And appropriate for their age

One aspect that should never be underestimated is the age of the child: the type and number of requests from the adult change during the growth.

"We must ask ourselves, as educators, if a certain rule is adequate for our child's age - continues the psychologist - if he can do what we ask. To pretend that a three-four-year-old boy, for example, tidies up his entire room by himself is a bit excessive.

His day revolves around the game, any other element is a source of disturbance for him, so it makes no sense to repeat 500 times to wash your hands. It is a good idea to find a strategy, for example, tell him a story and tell him that someone is calling him and he can smell it. All children love the idea of ​​stinks and so you can actively involve them with humor. Laughing with the baby usually works.

Furthermore, as adults it is important to be role models: we do not ask our child for things that we do not do.

In my work, in the studio, one day, I played the swearing game with a little girl who really listed a lot of them. When I told her that she knew a lot of them, she replied that she had heard them say to her mother while she was arguing on the phone with her father ... In short, it is difficult for a child to be different from what we are adults ", says the psychotherapist.

Children take consistency seriously

"Consistency is the basic rule for every parent- underlines Giuliana Franchini - adults must always strive to be consistent. "In other words, whatever the educational request, it is never advisable to change it on the spot to avoid whims and grievances.

Ten minutes of TV a day? Well, 'whatever' happens, no hesitation in the face of a tantrum (or tears) just to keep him quiet. Don't you eat industrial sweets and sweets at all hours? Is the baby screaming that it is 'too early' for bedtime? Even if you're on vacation, there's no need to let him skip around the house until midnight ...

This does not mean being 'rigid' but it is important to set clear, reasonable limits and enforce them without giving in to the pressure (sometimes exhausting!) Of the child.

"The rules must be thought by the couple - continues the psychologist -, they must be determined in advance. This is very important".

Children do not understand vague and generic requests

Perhaps it will seem obvious but it is not at all: the rules must be very clear, never too vague and generic. "The regulatory request must be clearly stated, - recommends Giuliana Franchini - one must be very practical when asking something from the child.

The classic 'Be good!' it doesn't make sense, it doesn't give directions and it just creates confusion, 'Dunno, what am I supposed to do?' - he will think every time and this applies to the little ones and even those of school age.

'No swearing', 'Be careful at school', 'You go to bed at 9' are instead clear messages and it would be better to give the rule with a positive value, that is 'Tidy up!' instead of 'Don't mess!' - underlines the expert.

Is the child screaming? You keep your voice down

It is not uncommon, however, that mum and dad have established the rules that they consider indispensable for their child based on age, in a simple and clear way but 'the answer' is still unconvinced.

'But why doesn't my son listen to me and want to do (almost always) what he likes ?!' A refrain and a question that, probably, many parents have asked themselves ...

"The child is self-centered and, of course, protests in the face of a prohibition, the 'no' is experienced by him in a violent way, like a punch in the stomach - explains Giuliana Franchini.

The parent, at times, is frightened by the scream of the child (at any age) and gets on the same level, screaming more than the child. In this way, the mother becomes the 'evil witch', her son no longer recognizes her as a mother and a mechanism is triggered in which the stakes continue to be raised - the psychotherapist warns.

On the other hand, lowering the tone of voice displaces the child - and, often, adults too! - and suggests a tool for communicating other than shouting ".

Is the child angry? Tell him "I understand you" (but send him to bed anyway)

"As educators, if we keep calm, we convey the idea that anger can be managed in many ways - reiterates the psychologist - compared to screams and tears. It is important to tell him that he is right to be angry, thus recognizing what he feels, but you just can't do otherwise.

We show that he is angry because he would like to play again until 23pm but it is not possible, he has to go to bed.

In the face of the child's anger, as a parent I have to put myself in his shoes, empathizing with him, thus also offering him the opportunity to name the emotions of that moment.

Explosive anger scares the child himself, he needs to know that the adult understands what he is feeling and gives him a useful answer: 'Look, I understand that you are very angry'. Such a statement allows the child to lower the tension ", says the expert.

Is the child having a tantrum? Stay in control

When the child does not hear reasons and opposes with all his strength to a 'no', the parent should keep (at all costs) in control even if (perhaps) it is not always easy.

"An error to be avoided is to adopt the same behavior as our child: if he screams, I scream more than he, - warns Giuliana Franchini. The adult has other resources and abilities, if I, as a parent, learn not to scream and make use of, for example, with a little humor, I pass an important message to the child.

Humor is definitely a resource that must be activated and works immediately, we learn through positive experiences, and then we reapply what we have learned to other situations.

The mother must try to control herself, and keep calm, counting to 10. This is especially true in the most classic situations, such as that of a tantrum in the supermarket. If the baby starts yelling that he wants the whole candy shelf, it's important to say in a firm (and calm) voice, 'No, we can't, now let's go home.'

After school, the child is tired and it is certainly not ideal to go shopping, when he probably would like to do something else, this too contributes to triggering a rebellion mechanism. A good approach is to agree first, giving the child the opportunity to choose only one thing, "advises the psychologist.

Learn to communicate feelings

A prominent aspect in the relationship between parent and children, also for education, is the ability to communicate feelings. The adult must recognize those of the child and at the same time make explicit his without subterfuge to help him understand what he feels.

If Mom is very upset about her son's scene in the supermarket, she has to admit it. A fact that Giuliana Franchini strongly emphasizes: "As adults, we have the obligation to clarify all emotions, positive and negative.

Keep in mind that with a child it works more to admit: 'I'm angry now because this is not done!'. It doesn't make sense to tell your son, 'You're bad!', 'I didn't expect it.' Nor is it correct to scold the child and console him immediately afterwards: the message is too contradictory and the child will wonder what it is worth.

Better 'punishment': the child is silent for a few minutes

When it comes to handling tantrums or breaking family rules, there are many schools of thought. A possible technique is to leave the child alone to think, perhaps in his room, telling him: 'Stay here for a moment, calm down and then, when it passes, let's do something together'. Of course, this does not mean leaving a 30-minute-old child in his room - explains the psychologist and psychotherapist. We must never forget measure and common sense. (Read also Punishments, better teach self-discipline)

The baby cries and stays with himself, he invents something and also learns to endure the wait, this is a useful time for him, for pause and reflection ", declares the family expert.

Comparisons and blackmail are not good for children

According to the psychologist, threats, more or less subtle, comparisons with all the 'better' comrades and moral blackmail (or worse still corporal punishment) do not work. Because the acceptance of a rule, based only on fear (or humiliation), is not a stimulus for growth.

The child respects the rule. Tell him: "Bravo!"

On the contrary, explains the psychologist, it is essential to emphasize commitment and good will every time the child 'tries' (or completely succeeds) to follow a rule.

"When a child respects a rule, it must be emphasized, this attitude acts as a reinforcement and sends the child a clear and positive message about what he did. So he will want to repeat it spontaneously.

In this way, he feels that he has made the parent happy and creates a mechanism whereby he will want to replicate that behavior. Let's not forget that children love us more than we adults do and they want to make us happy ", highlights the psychotherapist.

Children need confirmation of love

The 'magic formula' to better educate a child in compliance with a series of basic rules, and to raise him healthy and happy with himself and the world does not exist. But the adult can contribute enormously with his attitude to the child's emotional well-being and to the relationship.

Sometimes, in the relationship with the child, she forgets to reiterate her feelings: according to Giuliana Franchini it is very important to do so. "Every now and then I ask the parents: 'But do you ever tell her son that she is happy, that he is really the child she wanted?' - this is an aspect that I really want to underline. Affective confirmation is vital for growth, we all need to be loved.

Telling the baby that he is our baby and we are happy we had him is essential for his growth. In addition to affective confirmation, the expert also draws attention to other needs of each child: "The parent must listen to the child, dedicate his time and a lot of patience to him.

When I work with children, they often ask me: 'But why do you spend so much time with me?' This is indicative of how much the children need shared time and an adult reference available to also accommodate their needs ", concludes the psychologist.

Questions and answers

How to give the rules to children? 

Each rule must make sense based on the age of the child and attention must be paid to the number of those established. 

What to do if the child has a tantrum? 

Maintaining control, even if it's not always easy. We must avoid screaming. On the other hand, it is useful to use humor: this is how you convey an important message to the child.

What to do if the child has really overdone the tantrums? 

A possible technique is that of silence, leaving the child alone to think, perhaps in his room, telling him: "Stay here for a moment, calm down and then, when it passes, let's do something together". Of course, this does not mean leaving a child of a few 30 minutes in his room. We must never forget measure and common sense. 

  • children rules
  • children education
  • psyche
  • 3-5 children years
  • podcast
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