Things have been going fairly smoothly the past year until this past month or so. Increasingly, my daughters (twins age 7.5) do not pay attention to what I say and often do things they aren't supposed to do. Why? When I ask them why they did such-and-such, even though I said they were not supposed to, their answer is "because I wanted to." I have explained over and over again that you can't do things just because you want to if they've been instructed not to. (For example, leaving our property and going into neighbor's yards or the street, or taking markers into the livingroom, or throwing mud at the house.) I don't seem to have consequences that are effective. Nothing seems to be that important to them!
Have you tried identifying exactly what it is that they want to do/enjoy about these activities and trying to work up a compromise with them?
I suppose I could try that. But the things they do are so varied.....and I have tried both tightening the reins and loosening the reins, so to speak - and neither one seems to make any difference.
I think kids at this age really appreciate if you level with them about what it is you're concerned with. What is it about going to the neighbors that is not allowed? What can be arranged so that can be allowed? The street? What about the markers? Is the concern getting ink on furniture? Why do they prefer to work in there? I the light better? Throwing mud is fun! How can some mud play be accommodated?
I think looking at it as tightening or loosening may be problematic because it ignores the idea that you can all have what you want. Maybe they can help you come up with creative solutions? I feel like at age 7, seeing their parent try to stretch to meet their needs/desires in creative ways may go a long way to helping them understand that their wants are respected.
Well, cleaning the mud off the house is a good obvious one, IMO. If they are truly having a problem staying on the property (and I understand this concern because we live right in the city on a busy road), I think maybe I would tell them they can't be outside unless I was there with them, which will have logical limitations based on when I have time to be outside. That said, we have decided to draw our play boundaries pretty broad to accommodate our kids desire to wander. They can go between several homes and are always allowed with neighbors. If they go inside anywhere they have to come tell me. When my DC was a bit younger (7), she had to come tell me that she was going to ask to play with the neighbor two houses down and then come back and tell me if she was invited in. We have a 100% no-go down the hill towards the road. This is important to me and it gets reiterated whenever we have friends over and I tell them the boundaries. One time some neighbor kids did go down to the road (and crossed it). I freaked out accordingly. ;-) This is where reserving your freak-out for really important stuff comes in handy.
One more thing -- I have found that talking in the car (if you drive) is the best for this age. See if you can catch them in a conversational mood and have a frank chat about your concerns. Engage them in problem solving.
Oh, one more thing. In PET (Parent Effectiveness Training) they talk about breaking problems up into individual things to deal with. The idea is that confronting someone with the request to change a pattern of behavior can feel really daunting. But, asking them to make a change on one very specific and immediate problem is much easier to discuss and think about changing. So, while as parents it is understandable that we get frustrated by a pattern of things, it is better for our kids if we just talk about the next thing that comes up and treat it like an isolated issue. PET suggests that this is effective for adults as well as children and, IME, they are absolutely right. Imagine the difference when we approach our spouse/family member with "You always..." and the debate and defensiveness that comes out of that. As opposed to, "You forgot to get toilet paper and I am too busy today to go out again. Can you please try to remember that next time?"
I would have a talk about being responsible for their actions and how you'd like to allow them some freedom, but they don't seem ready so now they can't go out side unless an adult is available, the markers are going to be out of reach so they have to ask for them and return them when done, and they have to clean up the mud.
What consequences are you using?
To be more effective, focus on consequences for wanted behavior. Each kid can get a sticker for each day of "markers staying where they belong", and then they get to do something special after a whole week of stickers. You might want to make it easier at first, like an immediate reward for a shorter interval at first.
Also give the social reinforcement often for "markers staying where they belong" in the form of positive feedback. When you give them positive feedback, get close, touch, show emotion. Don't caboose criticism onto the positive feedback, no "but..", making it purely positive.
It comes down to lots of reinforced practice at first. You should fade out the reinforcement after a while, use the sticker system to instill some other wanted behavior, fade the constant feedback for good market management, but never completely stop.
You might even try just social reinforcement and not use the stickers at first. Tangible rewards are more for getting a wanted behavior going if it is not already occurring.
Focus on the behavior your want and give it a name like "markers where they belong" or find your own words to describe the behavior that you want. Stop focusing on the unwanted behavior in most cases (when it is likely to be harmless in the short run).
Also, in general, catch them being good. Give them positive feedback when they are cooperative in any way, even for the smallest act of cooperation, don't take cooperation for granted.