The age between 2 and 5 is an amazing period. One of my preferred ages, when the child starts to realise her independence and starts to separate herself from her parents. This is also the time when we start to set up rules. The rules are very important in children's lives. They give stability to children. They help them to predict and understand what is going to happen next or the causes and results of their actions.
The rules make them cope in a family or wider society and keep their life controlled. In each family there should be rules to follow. The rules need to be determined and agreed by the father and mother. Later on children have to have the right to share their opinion to create those rules. But not now. This is the age when we teach them the rules. In most cases, when a child has learned a rule, then she/he needs to follow it. That is it! And we think not obeying the rule is a catastrophe and we think our child is a badly behaved person, who, in the worst case, needs to be punished.
Between the ages of 2-5, and even later, the child understands the rules but wants to reflect his/her individuality. Doing that, they will not necessary follow your rules all the time.
Because they did not catch it
They do not break the rules. They just did not catch there is a rule or they do not understand the importance of the rule. When they break them you need to take the time to explain clearly using their language, what the rule is and why it is important.
Both of the parents are setting the same rules
One of the common reasons is, that the two parents are not united. It is very important that the rules are discussed before implementing them. In some families it is very natural to have the rules agreed by both of the parents, without any necessary discussions. In some families where the parents grew up together or the families know each other, or they come from a very similar social background, this is not an issue. But usually this is not the case. As our world gets wider and we have the chance to create very colourful marriages, between different society groups, ages and nationalities, it often happens that people with completely different childhood and society backgrounds have children together. And in many marriages we do not realize that what is good and exciting for a couple's relationship, will be a big issue when we get our first child together. So it is useful to talk over how we plan to educate our child before he or she has been born. And agree about some rules.
Also it is likely to be understood that the head of a family is the mother, so at home man has to give the space and the understanding to the woman to educate and set up rules, especially because men tend to break rules and make exceptions for the child much more often.
You are not making exceptions
Exceptions are very dangerous. I do not say no exception. But you need to know how much advantage your child will take of one. If it happens regularly they will then be confused and unbalanced. They will learn: Rules are for breaking, and they will always look for an easier and more comfortable solution. You will generally lose their respect as an adult. As teenagers, they will judge you as a parent, and they do not understand yet, what it means being "weak”. So I strongly recommend you having a very good reason to make exceptions. And it should not be because you are tired or lazy. The longer road is usually the better one.
If one parent is always making exceptions and the other one not, then you will face the bad cop - good cop effect in the family. Usually this happens in divorce situations, when the father thinks that he will be loved more by giving exceptions. The truth is that the child will abuse this situation.
Because he/she is testing his/her limits
When there are rules, they have to be tested. Children need to understand their limit step by step. Only by testing the rules, and the consequences will they understand the meaning of the rules. They will break them from time to time just because they did not catch them or because they forgot them or they just test to see if the rule still exist. You should not be angry or disappointed. Like a new habit for you, a rule for them it takes time to become part of their life. You just have to explain and re-explain why that rule is so important.
Because he/she is testing your limits
But most of all they test you. This is the way of developing their own personality. We parents are the first ones around them that they can not obey. Showing who they are. Some do it just a few time. Some do it like every single day, making us crazy. In this period of the development of the child, you need a hell of a lot of patience and to understand this is not against you. It is in their human gene to test in order to grow, to be better and to be independent. The rules are the best and first for them. They can say no to something which is about them.
One of a good things to do is, to give them another option to test their independence, by selecting their daily clothes or sometimes saying what they want to eat or going to shop with you and helping to choose things. Give them options and let them decide.
I had a cute incident recently with my daughter, who does not like teeth-brushing. She had her teeth brushing in the evening and asked for some milk or juice after that. I said No. She was disappointed and because she is in her "Why” stage, she asked WHY? I explained:
"Because when we wash our teeth in the evening we do that to clean them before going to bed. We do not want the sugar in the milk to make your teeth ugly during the night.” "I want nice looking teeth, mom like yours-,"she said. The next morning she explained to her Dad. "Dad do not give me any milk this morning because I washed my teeth already.” That is the way how she remembered the rule. Since every evening when we go to wash her teeth she has no problem anymore. At the moment!