I often meet with parents who want to talk to me about getting their child to listen to them at home. Perhaps the child has been in the Montessori environment for a while, and the parents have observed how well their child responds to the teachers at school.

They’ll say, “As soon as the teacher asks him to clean up, he does it right away! I can never get him to clean up his things at home.” Or, “I am having a battle every evening to get her ready for bed. What am I doing wrong?”

This is how I usually respond: As children get older (usually around 4 years of age, it is very normal for them to begin to challenge rules. This is a period in the child’s development when they are beginning to desire more freedom and independence. It is important for parents to recognize this as a healthy part of their child’s growth process, and also to understand that this phase does need to be managed appropriately. Proper management ensures that the child is able to develop the skills needed for independence and decision making, both of which are highly essential life tools. It is also important for the household to be a place where everyone, including parents, are happy and feeling respected.

If parents have had a fairly solid set of ground rules in place in the home up until this point, some simple readjustment is required. If parents do not have a solid set of house rules in place, it is time to do so.

To set the plan up for success, I recommend that parents discuss the proposed rules alone before presenting them to the rest of the family. Parents should decide on 3-5 rules that are important to their family needs. For example: We always come right away for when we are called for dinner. Or, We put away all devices during meal times. Or, We always put our things away before getting out something new.

Parents must decide what warrants the most attention in their home, focusing on those issues that are causing them the most frustration. There should also be a clear consequence for breaking the rule. For example: If someone doesn’t put their things away before getting out something new, mom or dad will have to put those items away, and they won’t be available to play with for one week.  Or, Everyone who comes right away when called for dinner gets to eat dinner. Those who do not come when called will have to wait until the next meal. Or, anyone using a device during meal times will lose that device until the next day.

It essential to remember that everyone in the home, including the parents, must be willing to comply with these rules as well! Focus on 3-5 issues only; too many rules are overwhelming and difficult to follow and enforce. Make sure to compliment family members often for remembering to follow the rules! (“I like how you came downstairs so quickly when I called you for dinner!” Or, “ The living room looks so tidy! Thank you for keeping your things organized.”)  Often children think we only notice when they forget the rules- make sure they know you are also seeing their successes!