Articles and Topics
House Rules: Advice from Moms

Christi in Matton
Now that my son is 4, he puts his plate in the sink and puts his dirty clothes in the hamper. He likes doing these things because it makes him feel like he's becoming a big boy!

Jennifer in Watertown
Give your son simple jobs, like setting the table for dinner. Granted, it won't look perfect, and it may take longer than you would like, but it teaches him to help out. When doing this, offer him lots of guidance: Give him the right amount of cups and have him do that first. Then move on to plates, forks, etc. This makes him feel like he's part of the dinner preparations.

Rebecca in O'Fallon
If my 4-year-old doesn't say "please," he doesn't get what he wants. If he doesn't say "thank you," we take it back and ask him what he forgot. He also can have out a set number of toys at a time. And bedtime, he has to put them all away.

Michelle in Nashville
Teach your son to take his shoes off as soon as he comes in and put them in his own shoe rack. That way he will always know where they are. It helps when everyone says it and makes it a game.

Alison in Orillia
Use pictures to let your son know what the rules are. Explain what the pictures mean so he knows to wipe and take off his shoes.

Maria in Fort Bragg
Make wiping his feet off a fun activity by either dancing on the mat or stomping your feet with him. As for "please" and "thank you," make sure you're doing the same with him. When he does use those words, praise him.

Mark in McAllen
Our 2-year-old son has learned to say "thank you" and "please" by hearing us saying it to one another. We have taught him to pick up his toys, even though he fusses when he does it. I also let him see me wipe my feet before entering the house.

Kassi in Oxford
My daughter must clean up toys before moving on to another project, feed the cat and say "please," "thank you," "excuse me," "No, Ma'am" and "Yes, Ma'am." She's welcome to ask for help with chores at any time, but it's important for her to learn that she can do these things by herself.

Grant in Canada
Our son has to say "please" and "thank you" and apologize when he hurts somebody or breaks something. He also knows what toys he can take to bed at night. Our newest rule is that he cleans his room every night before bed. I have found that if you set rules early, they become easier for the child to follow.

Katie in Lakeland
Every time my 4-year-old cousin did his chores, we put a star on a refrigerator chart and rewarded him with a small reward. After a few weeks, he just liked to hear us say, "Good job!"

Bettye M. Caldwell, Ph.D.
Every family tends to make its own house rules, some of which seem strange to other families. However, every house needs to have them—for everybody—and a 4-year-old is not too young to be included. The social graces (“please,” “thank you” and “excuse me”) are universal, and certainly every child needs to learn them. And there are many other rules of courtesy and thoughtfulness that could be added to wiping the feet—things like not walking between two people talking to one another, not interrupting when someone is speaking, etc.

“Please” is probably the easiest of the social graces to work on, as you control the desired reward. If your son wants a cookie and doesn’t say “please,” you can ask him, “What’s the magic word?” and withhold the cookie until he says it. “Thank you” is a bit harder if the child already has his hands on the desired object. But if you are still holding a desired object—a cookie, a toy taken down from a high shelf, a toy allowed out only at certain times—you can hold on and ask: “What do you say when someone gives you something?” For generations, mothers have used these techniques.

When you start trying to develop a new habit in your child, to try to be near whenever the desired behavior is needed. For example, if you know your son is getting ready to come inside, stand next to the door a couple of times and offer the reminder, “Be sure to wipe your feet before you come inside.” If this doesn’t help and you think he is just being stubborn, take away some privilege each time he breaks the family rule. (It might also help if we didn’t have so many TV commercials showing a smiling mother who looks at muddy footprints across the just-mopped floor and, still smiling, wipes them up without saying anything to the guilty child!)

Finally, modeling is very important in this type of teaching. If you remember to say “please” and “thank you” to everyone, including your son, this will help more than anything.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education