Love, Always

My child doesn’t respond to rules or consequences. Nothing works!

As a psychologist and life coach, “effective parenting” is one of my favorite topics.

One, because I adore kids and love seeing them grow up healthy, happy, and strong.

Two, because there’s so much confusion about how to parent, how to discipline children, what kinds of rules are appropriate for which age groups, and on, and on.

One statement that I hear from frustrated parents quite often — practically on a weekly basis — is this:

“I’ve tried to set rules for my child. I’ve explained that there are going to be consequences for misbehavior. I did all of that… and it still had no effect! My child is still being [unruly / rude / defiant / lying / manipulating / procrastinating / insert problem here] and nothing seems to work!”

Sound familiar?

If you’re stuck in this “nothing is working” scenario — feeling increasingly irritated because your child doesn’t seem to be responding to your parenting approaches — here are four questions that I suggest digging into, asap.

1. Are you applying consequences for rule-breaking consistently or just… sometimes?

When I ask my clients this question, the answer is often a sheepish “no” or “yes, but…” or “well, kind of…”

Consistency is essential in order for consequences to be effective.

If you only apply consequences for violating a rule “sometimes,” then your child will quickly learn that you are inconsistent and unreliable, and is likely to use this information to his or her advantage. Your child may choose not to cooperate, thinking, “I’ll take a chance and not do my chores… maybe I won’t get a consequence.”

Try becoming much, much more consistent before you decide that consequences “don’t work” for your child.

2. Is everyone on the same page?

Sometimes, other caregivers (babysitters, tutors, grandparents, etc.) aren’t “in the know” about the rules and consequences that you’ve established, or are failing to enforce the rules when you’re not around. That’s a problem.

Parents are the primary role models for their children, but these other role models are influential, too.

It’s time for you to be a leader and get everyone on the same page — for the wellbeing and benefit of your child.

3. Are you tracking your child’s behavior with a chart?

Creating a daily “responsibility chart” is a terrific way to outline rules, chores, and required behaviors for your child — along with descriptions of consequences for non-compliance.

Charts can seem like miracle-workers because they put a quick end to arguments and debates about “fairness.” Everything is put “in writing,” so to speak.

If your child completes a chore (or follows a rule), they get a checkmark or a gold star. No compliance? No check, no star, and then you have an opportunity to ask your child, “What is the consequence for what you did / did not do?”

Using a chart system can help your child to build self-reliance and independence. It can also help to build self-esteem, as your child begins to realize, “I can stay organized. I can complete things. I am awesome. I can do this!”

[Not sure how to create this kind of chart? Use an online tool like My Job Chart to get started.]

4. What kinds of consequences are you applying? Are they strong enough?

Consequences tend to be most effective when you are temporarily removing one of your child’s favorite privileges — TV, video games, cellphone privileges, sleepovers, playtime with friends, and so on.

If you are choosing a consequence that is not “strong” enough, your child is not likely to have much motivation to comply.

Remember: every time you set a firm, rule that you implement with love, and then apply a consequence for non-compliance, you are doing your child a huge service. You’re not being “mean.” You’re being an effective teacher.

After all:

If you don’t teach your child that there are undesirable consequences for certain choices, who will?

So, before you decide that your child is “immune” to rules and consequences, consider making the four adjustments that I’ve just outlined. You may discover that your child responds to your parenting very differently.

One day, when your little one is all grown up? He or she will be deeply grateful for your unconditional love, your unflinching boundaries, and all the vital life lessons that you have instilled.

. . .

PS. For more parenting tips, check out my regular TV segment on Hawaii’s WakeUp2Day. (I share links to each video segment in my newsletter). Also, check out my e-book: The Life Guide on How To Get Your Kids To Cooperate. It comes with an audio version, too, in case you like to “read” with your ears. Enjoy & mahalo!)