In my last post, “How To Have a Well-Behaved Child, Part 1,” I presented general principles of good behavior in young children. Now, for Part 2, I would like to follow up with specific recommendations: 15 rules that parents can use to help children learn to behave well (most of the time).
1. Play (and work) with them often.
This is the best way to teach children cooperation and self-restraint. The best way to help children learn to cooperate, when there is work that needs to be done, is to work with them.
Every moment of interactive play with an admired adult offers an opportunity for children to learn rules and limits. In the course of this play (and work), children come to understand that rules are necessary — for safety and for living with others. To the dismay of many well-intentioned parents, most children do not learn good behavior from repeated talks or lectures.
A generation ago, developmental psychologists Eleanor Maccoby and Mary Parpal instructed parents to play each night with their children in whatever way their child wanted to play. Just two weeks later, these children more readily cooperated when asked to clean up their toys.
Since then, the importance of interactive play has been repeatedly demonstrated — in clinical interventions for oppositional and defiant children, in preschool and kindergarten educational programs and in neuroscience research. I will discuss this research in more detail in future posts.
2. Express enthusiastic interest in your child’s interests, even if these are not the interests you would choose.
Enthusiastic interest in our children’s interests is a first principle of strengthening parent-child relationships — and of fostering cooperative behavior. At the risk of being somewhat crass, we can think of enthusiastic interest as the deposit that we draw on when it is time to set limits. (Or, as the behavioral psychologist Alan Kazdin points out, the effectiveness of our time-outs depends largely on the quality of our time-ins.)