Social Skills Lessons: How Do I Get My Child to Follow the Rules?

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As a dad of 11-year-old twin boys, I like to consider the latest thinking on the topic of parenting by reviewing current research and blogs of other parents.  A key topic for me is social skills lessons. One of the best things about the explosion of millions of people posting content on the Internet is that you can easily find fresh ideas or approaches for a problem.

Helping my children with social skills lessons is a constant area of focus for my wife and me. I’m sharing with you approaches that have worked for us. We believe that understanding and following the rules at home is the first step to our twins’ success at school and in other social situations.

Here is my list of 7 steps to take to help your child learn to follow the rules.

1. Create the rules together with your child. According to Lacie Rader, teacher, author and mom, you should involve your child in the setting of rules. Sit down with a paper and pen and talk to your child about setting rules. Rader believes that your child will find ownership, especially if she or he is able to suggest and help create the rules. Rader says,

“Rather than the rules coming from Mommy, minute by minute throughout the day… this is a list, it’s consistent and best of all, the enemy is the list (not you)!”

 2. Have both consequences and rewards in place. In our family we mean what say and we say what we mean. Six months ago, one of our twins belched at dinner and didn’t say excuse me, his consequence was no desert. He was mad and protested but my wife and I still kept to our rule. He hasn’t forgot to say excuse me again since. When our twins follow the rules they are rewarded in multiple ways usually verbally and sometimes with a preferred activity.

3. Use a gentle and sensitive tone to explain the rules to your child. Your home is not a boot camp and you are not a drill sergeant. The Family Share website reminds us that using orders, forcing or threats may drive your child in the wrong direction. They will be act out of fear. By being sensitive when reminding and reinforcing the rules, your child learns to make the choice to follow the rule for the right reasons.

4. Every child must follow the same rules. If you have more than one child, like us, you probably find that the sanest approach—for you and your kids—is to apply the same rules equally. There’s plenty of time when they grow up to discover that the world isn’t (really) a fair place. Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.

5. Hold practice sessions about following the rules in the safe environment of home. Explain to your child how to follow the rules at school when he is interacting in groups with other kids. For example, explain to your child how to approach a group of kids playing together. Explain to your child in detail, the steps to follow when he wants to join a group of kids playing together. Role-play with your child. First, explain each step:

1) Wait for a good time to join the game. Like when there’s a break or the ball rolls away.
2) Smile at the kids and make eye contact.
3) Say something positive: you guys look like you’re having fun!
4) Then ask—while still smiling—may I join you?
5) Last, discuss what to do next if the kids say “no”.

6. Consistently on teach table manners. This one may or may not help them improve their social skills deficits with other kids but it’s still a big one. Work to reinforce the basics: Not jumping to eat before others are served, placing the napkin in their lap and using forks and knives correctly.

7. Discourage food-criticizing behavior. This is a key social skill learning they’ll need as adults! The blog at Today’s Parent has a great suggestion they quoted from parenting coach Lisa Bunnage:

“The other thing kids this age have in common is complaining about the meal they’re served. “I suggest parents say, ‘OK, start cooking for yourself. But the rules are that your meal has to be healthy and you have to leave the kitchen spotless,’” says Bunnage. “Either they’ll try it once and decide mom’s food tastes great, or they end up loving to cook and clean and become the family chef.”

If you have other suggestions for helping your child follow the rules, please let us know below in the comments. We’d also like to hear what doesn’t work when teaching your child social skills.

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