Thursday, March 23, 2017

Family Rules and Rewards (for toddlers)

 **  Please note that our parenting experience extends to a mere three years currently. We are learning how to approach family rules and expectations as we go! These rules and rewards will change as our family changes. The following is merely a sharing of our family's current experience. Perhaps, though, it may be helpful for determining rules and rewards for the toddler ages. **

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     At some point it happens- the need to establish household rules. Household rules are beneficial for the child and the entire family. They, in fact, allow all individuals to thrive. Rules provide guidance to proper behavior in a predictable manner. They aren't arbitrary, nor are they reactive. They establish boundaries and limits that teach a child how to conduct himself in a variety of situations and settings. 
     A toddler is experiencing a developmental stage in life in which he desires independence and will explore his limits. He's also wrestling with feeling big emotions but lacking in the ability to communicate or control those emotions. As a parent, it's my responsibility to help him navigate emotions and impulse-control so that he may develop emotional intelligence and maturity as he grows into an adult who will then be a beneficial member of society. 
Our "time out" spot in our home. 
     The home and family are mini-societies and practice societies. Jill Savage describes the upbringing setting or time as our "internship" for life in her book *Professionalizing Motherhood. She contends that the lessons learned early in life within the home or relationships therein provide a foundation from which we will work from as adults. Rules within the home establishes a respect for authority and boundaries that exist for a purpose and must be followed, the same as within society. Obedience and respect for authority is learned. Rules also provide lessons in social skills and how to interact well with others. If a child can learn to get along well with his sibling(s), he can get along with anyone. Establishing rules within the home are a part of training a child to become a thoughtful, kind and productive member of society as an adult. 
      Establishing rules within the home requires discipline on my part as a parent as well. It's easy to just "go with the flow" and correct as needed. However, this pattern is diffcult for the child to follow. He doesn't clearly understand expectations for his behavior. He only learns of his misdeed through correction. In other words, he acts and then I would react. It appears as though expectations are arbitrary and perhaps subject to my mood/disposition. I can see how eventually the children may begin feeling guilt and shame for being "bad" as a result of constant fussing. Establishing rules in a more proactive and concrete manner provides them a better understanding of the expectation for behavior and allows greater opportunity for success. 
      Family rules aren't bad things! They're really quite beneficial!
     As our oldest child grew from baby to toddler, we began to see the need for establishing family rules. We determined that around the age of two was an appropriate time to introduce formal rules and consequences. We considered various behaviors that were applicable to the particular stage in development. I didn't want a list of "no...". Instead, I tried to write the desired behaviors and then clarified with specifics to the side. We have a copy of our family rules hung in our "time out corner" in our home, and can easily point to the list and show them which rule was broken during our discussion. 
     Below I have a copy of our family rules. 
Click to enlarge. Contact me to receive a copy via email. 

     Our approach typically includes three steps: 1) a reminder of proper behavior 2) a warning of consequence and 3) Time Out mat (following Jo Frost's method). I've learned that it's important to resist the temptation to ask, "Do you want to go to Time Out? Then, don't do ___." This seems to send the message that the child may direct the discipline. Instead, I've tried to train myself to say, "We do ____. If you choose not to, then you will need to sit in Time Out." 

     (There is certainly far more to discipline than mere rules and consequences. This post is intended to focus only the practical "how to" as it applies to our family.)

Our jar is kept in our living room to be easily accessible and visible to everyone. 
      Along with rules, we also have a reward system for our children. A reward system is equally important as a rules system. A "reward" can be as simple as a word of praise. Or, it could be a visual reward. It could also be something tangible like a new activity, toy, book, treat or outting. Little ones are learning proper attitudes and behaviors, and it can easily become apparent that they are "bad" if they receive only correction. They really need to be affirmed that they've done well as well! The two systems are necessary for balance. 
       A reward system  recognizes and focuses on positive behavior. The creation of some sort of a system allows me to be more cognizant of offering them that recognition. It's easy as a parent to simply expect a certain standard of behavior, and neglect praising and/or rewarding them for it. By having a visible reward system, not only are they motivated to work towards the goal, but I'm more inclined to be prompted to offer them praise or a reward. My mama-heart needs to see the good/positive and offer praise just as much as the children need to receive it. 

     We initially used a sticker chart, but it quickly lost it's appeal. I then chose to use various size pom-poms placed into a jar. The pom-poms are new and exciting to them, which provides sufficient motivation. The various sizes allows the jar to be filled without a predetermined amount. 
      Any time we recognize the children having good behavior they receive a pom-pom for their jars. We try to recognize even the smallest act, as even that is important. Once the jar is filled we take the individual out for an ice cream cone, cookie or other special treat with just Mama or just Daddy. It's a simple concept, and yet has been so effective! 

    (Of course, eventually they will need to learn to exhibit proper behavior without a tangible reward, but for the toddler age presently we believe this is an appropriate course of action. His little face lights up with the offering of a pom pom or mention of working towards an ice cream cone reward, and so that's sufficient evidence for me!))   

Recommended Resources: 
Jo Frost's Toddler Rules by Jo Frost
*Time Out Mat
"Caught You Being Good Jar" idea and printable

Note: The "*" indicates the inclusion of an affiliate link. I am personally an affiliate with, and as such receive a compensation for purchases made through the links. (Thank you!)

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