Children develop their ability to reason at different chronological ages. Some children arrive at the age of reason when they turn four while others are seven or eight years old before they have reasoning powers. It makes sense then to instruct children accordingly.

For example, asking a young child to follow simple rules, such as saying “please” and “thank you,” may seem straightforward to a parent. But a young child may not understand all the variations of the general rule. A child may understand the rule in a specific context, such as when the family is eating at the dinner table and passing food, but he or she may “forget” to say “please” and “thank you” at other times when it would be appropriate to use them. In such situations, what is likely is that the child does not yet have the ability to apply the rule to different situations and circumstances.

Lapses in following through on family rules—such as putting toys away, picking up things dropped at the dinner table, and following the steps necessary to get ready in a timely manner in the morning—may happen daily simply because your child does not yet have the intellectual maturity necessary to be consistent. If parents can remember that these lapses may be part of the developmental process rather than acts of stubbornness or rebellion, an appropriate response can be crafted accordingly. Young children are still learning. They may need what seems like constant reminding.

Your patience for gentle and persistent instruction may also be helped by remembering that children love to learn through play! If a child has trouble remembering all of the steps necessary to get ready in a timely manner in the morning, for example, make getting ready fun with visual reminders. You might number cards with icons of all the things that need to be done sequentially in the morning. And kids usually like music, so turn on a little music and dance your way through the steps to get going in the morning. The morning routine sets the stage for the day, so making it a positive, playful experience for everyone creates a win-win!