How to positively address rule-breaking behaviour in children

Date: November 19th, 2020

Presenter: Professor Geneviève Mageau

Host: Catherine Cimon Paquet

Parenting and working  with children can be challenging, especially given that children test boundaries and break rules. When children break rules, rule enforcement is essential in promoting socialization (Baumrind, 2012; Grolnick & Pomerantz, 2009).

Yet, exactly how parents can enforce rules without jeopardizing children’s autonomy remains unclear. On one hand, the recommended authority exertion strategy (i.e., mild punishment defined as aversive non-physical sanctions) is associated with negative outcomes shown to hinder child autonomy and internalization. On the other hand, classic autonomy-supportive behaviors (e.g., providing rationales) seem less effective than mild punishments to elicit compliance (Patterson & Fisher, 2002).

The present research focuses on the link between parental constraints and transgression-induced problems to distinguish logical consequences (i.e., parental constraints that directly address transgression-induced problems) from mild punishments, as a promising alternative to foster both child internalization and compliance. A series of studies have shown that logical consequences present significant advantages over mild punishments in terms of cognitions and emotions known to promote child internalization. Importantly, logical consequences seem as effective as mild punishments to prevent future child transgressions. The importance of considering the nature of parental constraints in rule-breaking contexts will be discussed.


Genevieve Mageau is a professor at the Université de Montréal, and co-leader of the How to Project (with Mireille Joussemet), which evaluates the parenting program How to talk so kids will listen & how to listen so kids will talk. Her recent work focuses on the definition, determinants and outcomes of autonomy support in hierarchical relationships (mainly parent-child interactions), with an emphasis on the interplay of autonomy support and structure across domains of socialization.

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