Written by: Cally Worden
Children need rules and boundaries to help them feel secure, but too many can be confusing and cause more problems than they resolve. Add to that the need for modifying the rules as your children grow and you could be forgiven for just letting things slide. Getting the balance right is tricky, but taking a broad approach to rule-making may be the answer. Here are five types of rules that can help kids of all ages to feel good about their place in the world.
Keeping our children safe means taking care of both their physical and emotional well-being. Simple rules like not climbing the bookshelf, tilting on your chair or using the banister rail as a launch pad, all promote physical safety. These can be tweaked according to the way your home is arranged and the nature of your child. It wouldn’t occur to my daughter to climb the bookshelf, but my little boy has already made it to the top, flag and all. Emotional safety is a little more subtle, but covers ideas such as using only kind words, not mean ones, and encouraging children to talk about their fears and concerns only with an adult they trust.
Rules for Routines
Kids like to know what’s happening in their world and most thrive on routine. While this can drive parents nuts, for our children the concept of a regular pattern to life creates a sense of security that helps their self-confidence to develop. Rules for routine can include concepts like brushing teeth before breakfast each day, tidying toys before bed and dedicated hair-wash nights. When children know what to expect, the power struggles reduce significantly. They push less, because they understand that the rules are fixed. This works well provided there are clear, fair, and consistent consequences for any behaviour that challenges the rules.
Our children look to us for how to behave in the wider world. It’s up to us to help them grow into decent adults and we can do that by giving them strong values to live by and leading by example. Rules such as always being honest, not stealing and saying sorry when you’ve hurt someone or broken something, are basic values that will create a strong foundation for your children. Be sure to practice what you preach, as little radars are finely tuned to hypocrisy!
Rules to Guide Social Skills
Learning to interact successfully with others is a huge part of growing up. Saying hello when greeting someone, learning to share toys and taking turns in games are all ideal rules for younger kids to follow. These skills provide the basics for building relationships throughout their lives. As your children grow they may need reminding about how to be sociable, perhaps via limits on tech-time, a requirement to join the family for dinner and emerging from their bedroom periodically to spend time with the family.
Sooner or later your little ones will be big and looking to make their own way in the world. There are a host of rules you can apply in the home to help prepare them for independence, without overburdening them too soon. Learning to be responsible for themselves, their schoolwork and their belongings is vital. Rules that enlist their help with household chores not only instil a sense of responsibility, but help them to develop life skills too. Money management can be taught through the giving of pocket money and a need to save for things they can’t yet afford. Some families like to reward chores with pocket money, teaching the value of work and motivation.
Create specific rules within these categories that mean something to you and your family, and you will quickly build a guiding framework within which your children can develop without feeling stifled. No one gets it right all the time. Even the odd success is admirable in this minefield we call parenting. The fact that you’ve even read this far is a sign that you are thinking about how to help create positive boundaries for your kids, and that is the first step to succeeding.