The Importance of Family Rules

Hi,

Have you ever watched kids put together a game at the park? They have a ball and some space and instead of just toking off to play they start to develop the rules. And for them, rules matter. For some reason we think that rules are a negative but in fact they are appreciated. They let you know what’s expected.In fact, even adults like rules. So let’s talk about them.

The Importance of Family Rules

One day I spent the afternoon playing Monster Truck with my grandson. He was four years old at the time. He showed me how the game worked and then announced that because it was his game, it would be his rules. About every 10 or 15 minutes he would adjust the rules. The rules were just as important as the actual game.

I actually appreciated this because I knew what he needed from me to make it a good play experience. And isn’t that what Grandmothers like to do?

Kids like rules. They like to know what is expected, what is going to happen, what the other players (in this case, me) are supposed to do and how it all fits together.

We know that and yet at home we often find that setting limits, making family rules is challenging. And it can be even more difficult to stick to the rules or have a reasonable discussion about why it’s time to change a standing rule.

Kids thrive when they know that the adults are in charge and that they can anticipate what the expectations are as they go through their day.

I like to use the analogy of a house. First there is a solid foundation. This is composed of our unconditional love for our kids. The relationship we have with our children is immutable and the basis for all our interactions with them.

Then there are the outside walls and these are the non-negotiable rules like respect for each other, good manners and as they get older things like never getting into a car if the driver has been drinking.

The walls between the rooms, however, can be moved. These represent the changes we make as our children grow and mature. A one-year old is limited to playing in a childproofed and safe space, a four-year-old has run of the house but can’t jump on the couch, while a fourteen-year-old has a key to the front door and can come and go within certain time limits.

Sometimes just wanting our children to be happy gets in the way of setting reasonable limits. Eighteen-month-old Justin is a happy little boy and his parents want him to remain happy at all times. He loves chocolate. So they give him chocolate milk and allow him to munch on chocolate bars as an afternoon snack. They know this is not good for him, but they want him to be happy.

Letting our kids engage in behavior that is dangerous or unhealthy is not responsible parenting. And we need to know that, in fact, our kids will not always be happy. That is a fact of life but we must set rules and limits that will make him healthy and secure. And in the long run those limits will lead to happiness.

Kids who do not know what the rules are cannot relax. If the rules change according to the mood of the parent, they are always on edge. Every time they try something new they need to wonder whether this time they will be hugged or yelled at. But if the rules are clear they will try new things but they will have a pretty good idea what to expect based on past experience.

Children do push at the limits; that is typical behavior. It can be tiresome having to remind them about the rules and stick to our principles. The good news is that the clearer we are about our expectations, the less likely they are to try and see what they can get away with. When we are consistent they realize it’s a waste of time to aggravate us.

It is also important that we be prepared to expand the rules when our children get older. Our baby or toddler has no say in her bedtime, but a school-age child will want to have some input and a teenager may be ready to set her own bedtime.

When there are family rules, when they adjust according to the situation and the age of the child and when they are consistently respected that kids are more secure. It’s also easier for parents because you know how you’re going to react and your child is less likely to argue because you behaved exactly how he expected you would.

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Next time you’re sitting in the doctor’s office, lying on the couch fighting a cold or on transit and wish you had something to read, think about Parenting Today’s digital parenting books. You can choose from Who’s in Charge Anyway? which talks about roots. It provides a clear road map for parent to focus on the tough but rewarding job of raising children to be responsible, self-disciplined adults.

But Nobody Told Me I’d Ever Have to Leave Home talks about raising children to become capable young men and women. Vive la Différence focuses on specific parenting issues.
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One Response to The Importance of Family Rules

  1. Kathy Lynn, I love this. So sensible and insightful. I shared on my Shared Parenting Facebook page. (You and I met a few years ago at a Surrey writers’ event.) Keep up the great work!

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