“Raising Happy and Responsible Children: Instincts, Foundations, & Guidelines” by QACP Parent Educator, Kate Calhoun

“The behavior you consistently surround your child with will profoundly influence how your child turns out.”

“Most parenting successes are a result of what parents DO when emotions run hot and when things are difficult.  Actions speak louder than words.”

“Brains are pre-loaded with an innate moral awareness. (Loyalty, justice, empathy, respect for authority, and prescriptions against social violence.) How we parent makes the difference in whether moral behavior will develop.  Moral awareness does not equal moral behavior.  It has to be ‘taught’ and ‘caught.’”    -John Medina

Imitative Instincts

At birth babies have the ability to learn by watching and imitating behavior.

Example: A forty-two minute old baby who watches someone stick his tongue out will copy the behavior. Brains are designed to learn by imitating observed behavior.

Example: At about 14 months old, a baby develops the ability to understand ‘object permanence’. They learn this when parents play the ‘Peek-a-Boo’ game. Children delight in learning that things that can’t be seen are still there.

Children continue to learn by reading faces and body language, and by observing what other people are doing.

Laying a Strong, Firm Foundation for Young Children

“Parents must lay down the ‘bricks through the swamp’ to offer kids a solid foundation. Children develop social skills when parents lay down the rules and structure kids need to know to navigate the social world.” –John Medina

12-14 months  – Kids think: “The whole world revolves around me.”

14-24 months – Kids are learning: “There are rules and different perspectives.” They begin to realize that other people have a different point of view than they do.

24 months – Kids explore and test to see how stable and consistent the rules are.  KIDS MUST TEST THE RULES OVER AND OVER. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Terrible Two’s’…kids at this developmental stage need to test rules to make sure things are okay and stable in their world.

Toddlers test to get a predictable, consistent response. It’s not helpful or emotionally healthy to yell or use a loud voice. Stay calm. It helps when parents learn to say ‘no’, ‘stop’, etc. in a calm, firm voice with body language that offers a congruent message. This is not the time to give in to your child, or to let your toddler’s behavior influence your rules. Kids’ feel emotionally safe and their behavior improves when parents use clear and consistent limit-setting and guidance strategies.

Guidelines for Teaching Rules to Preschool Age Children (3-5)

HAVE CLEAR RULES – Use clear and simple language when telling your child about a rule. Make sure both parents and additional caregivers use the same rules as often as possible.

EXPLAIN THE RULES – Teach your child the importance of the rule. Give a simple explanation that tells why you have the rule. Children ages 3 to 5 are more compliant when rules are understood. They are more able to reason and make decisions based on information.

BE KIND AND FIRM – When telling the rules and setting your boundaries, use a tone of voice and actions that show your child that the rule is important, that you care about his feelings, and you that intend to stick to your rules. Being kind and firm at the same time takes some patience and practice. Think of yourself as a coach. You are on the same team with your child. You expect your child to learn new skills with the support of your teaching and guidance.

BE CONSISTENT – Once you decide on your rule or strategy, it’s essential that you make a big effort to follow through and be consistent. When your behavior is consistent your child will find it easier to follow the rules and become more compliant. Children feel emotionally safe when they can predict what behavior is expected of them.

“Parents need to be the source of stability for kids. Consistent parenting rules increase brain development. If rules are not consistent, there is an increased likelihood of pediatric psychiatric disorders.”  -John Medina

Hold steady to your rules. Having rules and routines that are stable helps young kids handle everyday life events, including changes within the family.

Kids can learn, adapt and respond to different people and their rules. They will learn Mom’s rules, Dad’s rules, and the teacher’s rules.  It helps when parents and other caregivers are consistent and use the same rules as much as possible.

OFFER PRAISE AND ENCOURAGEMENT – Remember to notice your child’s effort to follow rules and guidelines. Encourage your child with a hug, ‘way to go!’, ‘you did it!’, thumbs up or high-five to show you appreciate her effort and compliance.

Author Kate Calhoun is a Parent Educator for Queen Anne Cooperative Preschool (QACP). She regularly works with co-op families via her teaching assignments through both Edmonds Community College and Seattle Central Community College. This article was a part of Kate’s Winter 2017 educational series. The material she references is based on John Medina’s presentation for educators in Everett, WA (January 8, 2011) and in his book entitled: Brain Rules for Baby – How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five, Pear Press  2010.

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