Monday, March 5, 2012

Parent's Tool Box

Set Limits and Rules

Seems like common sense right? However, it can be difficult to make rules clear, and it can be difficult for young children to remember all the rules. What are rules for? To keep order in our house and lifestyle, and to remind people to respect each other.

If we make too many rules and try to enforce them all at once, children can be overwhelmed. If we don't make rules and limits clear, children will be confused. It's a delicate balance, and it doesn't work the same way for every child. It's no wonder that many parents struggle with this issue.

It's a good idea to start out with some overall guidelines, or a theme, that
is positive and serves as a reason for the rules. For example: "We love each other, so we respect, help and take care of each other." This becomes the guiding principle for all your rules, something that you can refer back to when clarifying rules or enforcing limits.

Most families have rules about things like cleanliness & neatness, schedules and how we treat each other. For example, one of your rules might be "No Hitting". Why? Because we respect and care about each other. That's a pretty easy one to figure out, but kids will still hit each other if they can get away with it, or if it gets a reaction from you. It's important to not overreact emotionally, but to enforce a consequence swiftly, such as "go to your room now". I'll talk about consequences more in a later post.

It's helpful to give brief but clear explanations for the behavior we expect from our kids. For school age children something like this is helpful, "We put our coats & books away in the right place so no one else will have to clean up after us. That's how we respect each other." Or something like this, "Everyone has chores because that's how we care for and help each other, we share responsibilities."

The value of an overall guiding principle is that it gives you a platform to teach the rules in the first place. You can't take a toddler and give them a long list of rules for life; no, we teach rules little by little as a child grows up. Children also learn many rules by the example they see around them, however the world can be a confusing place.
Another very important reason for rules is to help our children learn to control their emotions. If 2 year old Susie takes 4 year old Bobby's toy, and then cries when he tries to get it back, and Mom comes running to console Susie, then Bobby is going to want to bop Susie on the head next time Mom's not looking.  Bobby probably knows there is a "no hitting" rule, but his anger about the toy overrides the rule. If mom sides with poor little Susie without acknowledging Bobby's concerns, then he will become more angry. However, with children this age we have to keep things clear and simple.

The best way to assess and handle a situation like this is to first of all stay calm and don't take sides. Simply look in each child's eyes and calmly restate the rules, "We don't hit, we ask nicely to play with a toy, and we share." We might have to explain to Bobby that Susie is still learning how to ask, and we can even involve Bobby in helping to teach Susie how to ask to play with his toys. This helps Bobby learn to be a caring older brother and it helps Susie learn to respect him.

It's not easy to be a parent because we are our children's first and most important teachers. I hope this post has been helpful to you. Please feel free to ask questions or share comments below.


  1. Couldn't agree more. We are our children's 1st teacher and that is why it so important that parents, for the sake of their children, set a good example and get rid of all those bad habits and start to be a good role modal. Sometime by just looking at us, parents, children do imitate without realizing. Happy parenting.

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