It can be difficult to get your toddler to listen to you and follow the rules that you set. You may be at the point where scolding and nagging no longer works and you’re almost at your wits end. Yet we’ve discovered that there’s a solution. These six creative rules are simple to remember and actually work well with even the most temperamental child.

Rule #1: “If you’re in the room while I’m working, you need to work also.”

What’s the goal? As you complete your chores, your children should stop bothering you or help.

Every parent has been there….your little one is tagging along behind you blind to the fact that you have a huge load of just-dried laundry in your arms; she’s asking you to get her a snack, find her doll or wants you to play with her. You tell her that you’ll be done much quicker if she helps you fold the clothes. But that only worked for a little while, right? After three or four times, she figured out that you’d be done with your chore whether she helped or not and decided to watch and wait for you to finish.

The reason it stopped working was because there are two essential truths about children to consider:

  • Toddlers want to be with their parents as much as they can.
  • For them to be really helpful, you can’t pressure them into helping.

Once you realize and remember this, you can use the second truth against the first. Tell her she doesn’t have to help you, but she can’t just sit there and watch you; she must go in another room. She’ll have the option to help you with your chore and be with you or be by herself.

It works because: She’s given a choice so she’ll feel as if she’s in control of the situation even though she’s really not.

Rule #2: “You get whatever you get so don’t get upset.”

What’s the goal? It ends the bargaining over such things as the color sippy cup he gets, which kids TV character is on his paper plate, which sheets are on his bed, etc.

You’ve heard him exclaim, “I don’t want the cup with Ernie on it; I like Cookie Monster!” Or “But I wanted the Ironman sheets, not Superman!” It sounds too easy, but you’ll be amazed to find this rule really does work—and saying it is fun. It’s basically speaking to the simple truth of life: it isn’t fair, yet it also provides the unobjectionable answer to life’s injustices.

It works because: It’s about the situation at that moment and not life being fair. Children seem to know if this rule applies to them one day, it will pertain to someone else the next day.

Rule #3: “We aren’t going to argue about money.”

What’s the goal? Prevent your toddler from pleading and begging for things.

How many times have you been in a store explaining to your crying tot why she can’t have that toy or box of cookies? For this rule to work, you must be consistent in implementing it. The way this works is if she asks for you to buy, say, a toy then you say “yes” or “no” and nothing more. If your answer is “no” and she complains, you state calmly as many times as necessary, “I’m not arguing about money.” But make sure you stick to that statement and don’t argue with her.

This rule also applies when the shoe is on the other foot. For example, your 5-year-old has earned some money helping you with some chores and she now wants to spend that money. If you desire, you can advise or point out possible mistakes of her purchase. But remember: you don’t argue about money; so at the end of the day it’s really up to her. She’ll learn a lesson when she spends her money unwisely and you’ll both have fun shopping together.

It works because: The emphasis is on the value of money instead of having a discussion on whether she shouldn’t or should have what she wants.

Rule #4: “There isn’t any such phrase as ‘I’m bored’.”

What’s the goal? This teaches your small fry to entertain himself.

How many times have you heard your preschooler say to you, “I’m bored”? The next time he says that, just tell him “Boredom doesn’t exist; only a lack of imagination exists.” He’ll be so busy puzzling out how boredom doesn’t and does exist simultaneously that he won’t realize he’s not bored anymore!

It works because: The responsibility isn’t on you to provide entertainment; instead it’s left to him to find something to do.

Rule #5: “I’m not working after 8 pm.”

What’s the goal? It creates established bedtimes as well as time for yourself.

Your 4- and 5-year-olds are supposed to be in bed by 7:45 pm; yet it’s already 8:15 and you’re just now giving one of them their bath. This rule flips the issue around and makes it about you. You might even discover that your spouse will help more too! Tell your little ones that a new rule has been developed by the U.S. Department of Labor that states you must not do any “mom” work after 8 pm. But hold firm to your conviction and pretend that it’s out of your control. However, tell them that before 8 pm you’d be very happy to play games, give baths and read stories.

Remember, children want to spend as much time with you as they can. So your toddlers will hurry after supper and make sure they’re ready for bed so you can spend time having fun. Your spouse won’t want things to go beyond 8 pm otherwise they’ll have to put the tots to bed, so your better half will become more helpful earlier in the evening—maybe loading the dishwasher for you.

It works because: This rule isn’t about your children, it’s for you. You’re not telling them what to do. So if you don’t enforce it, it’s your fault.

Rule #6: “When you talk that way, I can’t understand what you’re saying.”

What’s the goal? It helps to stop screaming, rudeness and whining.

Sometimes you don’t like that your child orders you to do something instead of asks—you’re not his servant, after all. Or maybe he’s screaming or whining at you; none of these actions are acceptable. When toddlers do any of these things, they’re only looking for drama or attention; so don’t fall into their trap. Just calmly whisper the rule to him. Whispering this several times should help lessen the level of carrying on; never raise your voice. But for this to actually work, you must be faithfully consistent each time he acts this way.

It works because: It gives you the power to entirely ignore the bad behavior; yet it simultaneously lets him know what he says, if said nicely, is important to you.

We’re sure there are more fantastic rules like these out there—or perhaps you can create some of your own. Yes, it’s true that some of these (or maybe all) aren’t really rules but rather an announcement of policies in your home. Either way, whatever you call them, they’re sure to make your life (and your toddler’s) go a bit smoother.


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