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What to do when your child doesn’t follow the rules

How you can use metacognition to avoid setting rules your children don’t understand or follow, and instead help them reflect and take responsibility

Metacognition involves self-reflection and lets the child initiate something when nothing exists, and to evaluate one’s options.
Metacognition involves self-reflection and lets the child initiate something when nothing exists, and to evaluate one’s options. (Photo by Charlein Gracia on Unsplash)

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A few weeks ago, my neighbour, who lives directly below our apartment, came over to tell me that there was a lot of noise coming from the room directly above her bedroom. She was referring to my daughter’s room, I realised. While my daughter is usually off to bed at 9.30pm, the hours when she’s back from school, or during the weekends when she is mostly at home, she is super active, stomping and sometimes even bouncing off the walls to release her pent-up energy.

My first, tired reaction

When my neighbour first complained, I was defensive. Kids do need to run and jump. Besides, my daughter also has specific physical and sensorial needs. I conveyed this to my neighbour but she still requested respectfully that we find a way to solve the problem of the stomping girl in the room above hers.

As an overworked and stressed mother, my first instinct was to simply ban running, jumping and stomping around the house. My daughter grumbled a little but agreed to comply. She would try to sit still for a while, but soon she would forget and jump around again. To channel her energy, I tried to take her outdoors a lot more and increased her physical activities, and also contemplated laying out yoga mats around the house to absorb the sound. Nothing worked.

Also Read: Why you must apologise to your children

Soon, I began to notice that in most of my conversations with my daughter, I was constantly reprimanding her. I was telling her off, and I had kept trying to steer her learning, to the point that I saw her individuality fade away in everything she did or was forced to do.

This was the wakeup call I needed. I decided to take a different approach.

Encouraging equal participation

One day, I sat down with my daughter and talked to her about the family downstairs, and what our neighbour conveyed to me: that she had a baby who could not sleep because of the disturbance coming from our house upstairs.

Then, I asked her to come up with her own solution for this. Was there a way by which she could reduce her stomping and jumping? We know ourselves and our bodies best, after all. I told her to take as long as she needed to work this out, and that I was always around to support her in any way.

Her first reaction was that of surprise: She was amazed that I was not 'disciplining' her and that I had encouraged her to take control of the situation. And then, to my surprise, she took the task of problem-solving quite seriously.

After processing the details of the problem and understanding that people were getting adversely affected by it, my daughter has now started self-regulating her actions and needs. Given her physical and sensory needs, she still stomps and jumps, but she does so only in our living room and not in the bedroom. There are times when she forgets but on the whole, things are so much more peaceful at home.

The science of metacognition

Why did this approach work for my daughter? Educators call this important process ‘metacognition.’ My favourite description of metacognition is from authors Charles Fadel, Bernie Trilling, and Maya Bialik, in their book titled Four Dimensional Education: The Competencies Learners Need to Succeed.

“Metacognition, simply put, is the process of thinking about thinking,” they write. “It is important in every aspect of school and life, since it involves self-reflection on one’s current position, future goals, potential actions and strategies, and results. Perhaps the most important reason for developing metacognition is that it can improve the application of knowledge, skills, and character qualities in realms beyond the immediate context in which they were learned.”

Also Read: How to raise children in the digital age

At The Atelier, a school in Bengaluru for example, teachers do not control the children’s play or tell them what to do. Instead, they verbalise the learning process constantly.

“We ask the children questions like ‘What is your plan?’ ‘Where do you see this going?’”, says Rhythm Aggarwal, co-founder of The Atelier. “When a child is frustrated with something, we say ‘I see that you are trying so hard to make this and this isn't happening. What else do you want to look at?’” she adds.

This encourages a child to be able to initiate something when nothing exists and to evaluate one’s options. “This sense of agency even extends to literacy, with the children authoring their own books when they are 6. There is self-engagement and self-reflection every day and with their peers.”

Did a small shift in approach cause a huge change with my daughter? Not really. She has her ups and downs just like other kids. But what I did notice is that she now sometimes uses previous worksheets to figure out new ways to work on current math problems instead of expecting me to have the solutions for her.

This shift in approach to issues is helping her personality, which was buried under all adult instructions and rules, to slowly form and emerge.

Shweta Sharan is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.

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