Making up boundaries for kids is easy — it's finding ones that work (and enforcing them) that's difficult. I don't know how many times I've announced, "no snacking between lunch and dinner" to my kids, but yet somehow they still manage to claim they're "full" right at the time they're expected to eat their broccoli casserole. Funny how that works, isn't it? Some of my past household policies have defied human nature: "No squabbles in the house," for example, like that would ever happen. Others are just completely impractical: "If you don't pick up your toys, I'm going get rid of each and every one of them!" Please, like I had any real plans to get rid of all the toys that help keep them entertained!
If a household policy is going to work, then it needs to be simple, logical, and enforceable. According to child behavior therapists, restrictions and consequences are important for every child. Despite how they may act, teens and children need boundaries so they can both test them and feel protected by them. They help kids self-regulate and learn from their mistakes.
Here are 20 quirky disciplinary tricks that work...
20 You Can't Be In The Room When I'm Working Unless You're Working, Too
Given that I work from home as a freelance writer, this policy resonates with me on a deep level, particularly now that both of my kids are out for Christmas break. I don't know how many times I've been working in my office and had my children bust into the room and start talking to me ... hundreds, maybe? If this idea can save me from that, then count me in! The thing is, kids sometimes just want to be with their parents, but this boundary gives them a choice. Either be with mom and get some work done (you'd be surprised at how many kids will choose this), or go somewhere else and entertain yourself until mom is finished.
19 Whisper To Your Child During A Tantrum
I learned this trick from my daughter's preschool teacher, and it came in handy more than once. Every parent hates whining and temper tantrums, but how do you get them to stop? I've seen parents totally ignore their child's tantrums in the store, but they're still having to listen to their kid scream full volume through 15 different aisles. If you want it to end fast, the next time your child is in the middle of a fit and wants something NOW, whisper to him/her. After a minute or two, they will figure out that they need to quiet down in order to hear you, and VOILA! Suddenly you are being listened to and the tantrum is over.
18 Interrupting Mom Will Interrupt Your Playtime
Being interrupted by my children (or by someone else's child) while I'm in the middle of a conversation is a HUGE pet peeve for me. Sometimes parents will awkwardly apologize and completely stop their conversation by turning to their child and asking what they want. Are you hurt? Are your friends being attacked by wolves and they need emergency medical assistance?! Nope, they just wanted to tell you they found a big leaf, and you stopped an entire conversation for it. Awesome.
Let your child know there's a consequence for every silly interruption. Unless it absolutely CANNOT wait, every pointless interruption will equal lost playtime.
17 Make Your Bed Before You Leave Your Room
This one comes from my own childhood! When I was little, my mom had a rule: I absolutely could not leave my room in the morning until my bed was made. Not haphazardly made, either — it had to look like I made an effort. Guess what? To this day, I still feel like my day cannot begin until my bed looks nice. As a result, my bedroom never looks like a total mess because it's always partially clean from the minute I wake up. This policy teaches self-discipline and starts every day off productively. It's really not too much to ask, no matter how early they get up for school. Making up a bed takes no time at all.
16 If You Spill It, You Clean It
Kids are going to spill things, starting at a very young age, so make sure you've got some ultra-absorbent paper towels in the pantry. The point here isn't to keep kids from spilling things (that's impossible), but we CAN use these little accidents to help teach them that they're responsible for their own messes. Unlike breaking a glass, which can be dangerous, cleaning up a spill on the floor table is easily done and only takes a few minutes. Kids are much more capable than they would have us believe, which means we don't always need to sweep in and do the dirty work for them.
15 Picking A Squabble = Picking Up Toys
Any veteran parent knows that siblings are forever looking for squabbles, particularly at certain ages, but how do we get them to stop? Just like everything else, we need to consistently give them consequences. In other words, let them know that picking squabbles equals picking up toys (or whatever consequence you choose). Are you not sure who started it? Both kids get to pick up toys! I started doing this with both of my kids and they figured out pretty fast that the blame game didn't get them very far. For parents, this is a win-win! Even in the least favorable scenario, at least the playroom is getting picked up!
14 Only Eat At The Table
Are you tired of crumbs in the sofa cushions, crumbs in the bedsheets, or crumbs in the folds of the carseat? To make it stop, use this simple rule: We only eat in the kitchen. This is going to be hard to enforce at first, but once the kids figure out that you're never going to agree to them taking a slice of cake up to their bedroom, they'll finally stop asking. You can make exceptions to this, if you like (for example, eating popcorn in the living room on family movie night is okay), but make sure you provide clear eating guidelines before they dump an entire bag of flaming Cheetos on your white carpet.
13 If I Have To Repeat Myself, You Have To Repeat A Chore
This is our family's #1, because there is nothing worse than having to repeat myself. If I ask my kid to go fold their laundry, I don't want to have to repeat it 20 times while I wait for them to finally put down their phone. Parents, you should only have to say it ONCE. Teach your kids that they need to listen to you and respect your timetable or there will be consequences. Yep, there's that word again. For every time you have to repeat yourself, add a chore. For example, if you have to ask them three times to clean downstairs toilet, then make them clean all three of the house toilets. If they don't listen the first time when you've asked them to wash the dishes on Friday night, make them wash the dishes on Saturday night, too. You get the idea.
12 If The Parent Has To Be The One To Clean Up, They Get To Decide Where The Toys Go
Are you constantly nagging your child to clean up their playroom, but it never gets done?! Sure, you can force them to do it (after a lot of grumbling), but if your child continues to challenge you on this, simply do it for them. Don't worry, I'm not finished. Whenever the parent cleans the playroom, they get to choose where to put the toys that they just had to pick off of the floor and they get to decide when the child is getting them back. When your child notices that toys disappear for a set amount of time after mom does the cleaning, they'll be much more willing to do it themselves. You can also take it a step further and let your child know what they need to do in order to get them back (chores, for example).
11 Designate A "Noise Room"
Sometimes kids aren't misbehaving, they're just being LOUD, but how do you get some peace and quiet without punishing them? If you have a bigger house, designate a "noise" room that they can go to when they're being particularly rambunctious. This room is ideally far from the family room (where you might want to watch TV) and definitely not near a home office. Let them know that certain noise-making games can only be played in certain places or they will have to stop playing completely. If you don't have a big house, use a basement or just send them outside (but always make sure that they're safe).
10 Always Respond With "I Know"
Have you discovered the power of "I know" yet? As a parent of a preteen, I wouldn't be able to survive in my house without using this trick at least once a day. It seems counterintuitive to agree with your child when they're whining or complaining about something, but this lets your child know that you might agree with their thinking, but your rules still stand. For example, when my daughter says, "but everyone at school already has one," I simply respond with, "I know." If I attempt to argue her point, she'll use that as a way to continue talking about whatever it is she wants. Enough of that already! Not only does this prevent fruitless arguments, it also lets them know you won't change your mind.
9 Moms Never Work Past 8 p.m.
Take it from me, there's nothing better than telling your kids you're "off-duty" when you're bone tired, but you don't have to wait until Mother's Day for this to happen! Let your kids know that after a certain time of night (whether it's 7/8/9 p.m.) your "mom jobs" are done for the day. In other words, you'll gladly read them books, play games, listen to their stories, or give baths before that time, but after that you need to act like it's out of your hands. Suddenly your kids will become very aware of the time, because they suddenly understand that mom isn't endlessly available (moms need to sleep, too). Remember, you're not telling anyone else what to do — this one is for YOU.
8 No Leaving The Table Until Everyone Is Finished
My husband is as proper as a Sunday roast, so trust me, this particular guideline is seriously and widely enforced on the other side of the pond. When I first took my kids to visit their grandparents, I learned real quick that leaving the table before the last person is finished with their meal is seriously TABBOO. I also realized that this kept the children at the table talking and engaged, even after they were finished eating. If the child has to use the restroom, they simply ask to be excused for a moment. Yes, it seems formal, but it does wonders in teaching them manners. No children are going to rudely announce "I'm DONE" at the end of their meal because they have no choice but to wait and socialize. BRILLIANT.
7 Post A List Of Written Policies
Given that teachers spend their entire day managing 20+ children in one classroom, there's a lot of parents could learn from them in terms of discipline strategies. Here's a good one: create a list of household policies and hang them on the wall as a visual representation of expected behavior. A child can't claim they "didn't know" they weren't supposed to do something when your household expectations are literally hanging on the wall for them to see ever yday! Similar to class restrictions, keep your house list simple, don't make it too long, and word it positively. For example, instead of writing, "don't hit your brother/sister," write "keep your hands to yourselves."
6 You Get What You Get, And You Don't Throw A Fit
The goal? No more haggling over which donut has the most icing, etc.
This one is commonly used by preschool teachers, but it really applies to children of ANY age (and adults, too). Life isn't always "fair," so it's important to teach your kids that they can't "throw a fit" after every perceived injustice. Bear in mind, your kids might not respond well to this in the beginning, but if you keep saying it, they'll eventually realize that it works both ways. Eventually, THEY will be the one who happens to get the bigger cookie, and thanks to this restriction, they'll get to keep it. Even better? It rhymes and it's irrefutable.
5 We Don't Argue About Money
Just yesterday I was behind a woman in Old Navy whose little boy would NOT stop begging and pleading for candy while she was waiting in line. When she would say no, he would say "It's only two dollaaaaaaars," and she would tell him to go and put it back. Did he ever put it back? Nope, and the whining "entertained" all of us in line for about 20 minutes. At the last minute, do you think he got the candy? He totally did.
This rule changes all of that (as long as it's enforced consistently). Your child needs to know that despite whether or not you say yes or no to a requested purchase, the refusal to discuss money in those instances is a family value and financial policy.
4 Time In Instead Of Time Out
Tired of sending your kid to time-out only to hear them whining or crying in the corner for a set amount of time? Try something different. Have a "time-in" bucket with slips of paper that have age-appropriate chores written on them, and each time your child misbehaves, they have to go pick out a task and complete it before they can go back to whatever it was they were doing. This trick serves several different purposes: It gives them time to cool down, it teaches them that their actions aren't acceptable and they need to be diverted, and it gives parents a cleaner house! Win, win.
3 I Can't Understand You When You Speak Like That
I used this one all the time when I had toddlers, so take it from me, this works as long as you're consistent about it. Does your child order you instead of ask you, whine instead of speak, cry-talk, or speak rudely to others? Children do this when they're seeking attention, drama, or simply want something they can't have, but don't give in! Let them know that they won't get what they want by speaking to you inappropriately or disrespectfully. This empowers your child by giving them the choice to change their behavior, and allows you to completely invalidate (or ignore) the rude presentation.
2 Recognize Good Behavior, Ignore Bad Behavior
Stop clutching your pearls, I'm not suggesting that you should ignore ALL bad behavior; I'm just suggesting that you ignore any obvious negative attempts for attention. Kids (particularly middle children) sometimes feel ignored when they're being good, and they will often pitch a fit just so you'll turn their way and tell them to "stop it." For example, my son will do this by humming really loudly in the backseat when I'm trying to have a conversation with my husband just so we'll stop paying attention to each other and start paying attention to him. To prevent a child acting out in a bid for attention, start recognizing positive behavior and praising it when it happens. Let them know that good behavior is acknowledged, too.
1 There's No Such Thing As Boredom
Are you tired of hearing that, particularly over school breaks? Teach your child that there is simply "no such thing as boredom." You don't have to sit there and list out all the options for your children, you just let them know that this is your mantra. If they keep whining about being bored, create a "boredom jar." Every time they tell you they're bored, have them pull a slip of paper out of the jar that has activities written on them. Whatever they choose they must do for however long you determine. Trust me, they'll quiet down real fast.
Sources: Parenting; Kid101; Very Well Family; The Parent Journal; Good Therapy.