Improving Compliance

When parents set and enforce limits conscientiously, it's hard to predict in advance how a particular youngster will react. Most tweens respond much more positively than their parents imagined, and problems that have gone on for years vanish overnight. Some tweens follow the rules meticulously until the novelty wears off, then they lose motivation and their old habits resurface. Once again they forget to take off their muddy shoes before coming in the house, leave their assignments at school, and leave wet towels in a heap on the bathroom floor. In that case, parents must be careful to enforce consequences for each infraction of the rules, or they will have a difficult time maintaining discipline.

Let your child off the hook one time because he begs, pleads, argues, or whines, and you'll have to start setting limits from scratch. If you feel compelled to back down due to special circumstances, have your child concoct a plan to compensate for having shirked his duties. If you agree to let your child skip his turn washing dishes so he can play with a special friend, a proposal to wash dishes for the next two nights to make it up might be acceptable. Let him come up with a plan. If you agree and he doesn't follow through, be careful about allowing him to wiggle out of his responsibilities again. Rather than getting angry, matter-of-factly enforce consequences. Learning self-discipline takes time.

Some children know that if their parent adopts a certain tone of voice, they will in fact be held accountable and to protest is useless. At that point the angry protests fade. Contrary to what parents anticipate, most children quickly comply when parents consistently enforce consequences. Thereafter, resistance usually takes the form of some occasional small grumbles and halfhearted whines.

Set Clear Expectations

If your child breaks a rule and promises not break it again if you'll agree not to enforce a consequence, don't give in. When you tell a child, “This rule is important and you are supposed to follow it” and then tell her, “It's okay that you broke it this once,” you send a confusing double message. It's like talking a police officer out of issuing a speeding ticket by promising to observe the speed limit in the future. Some citizens do keep such promises, but after learning that they may not be held accountable if they're caught, most speed even more.

If you decide the rules you have established are unreasonable or unfair, change them. Otherwise, enforce them. Whatever you do, don't continue to harp about rules your child disregards if you don't enforce them. The tween years are too short and important to spend in such ongoing misery. It's important that both of you enjoy these precious years to the fullest.

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