This has been one of THE longest winters I can ever remember. The April ice storm was like the cherry on top. So, when the temperatures went up to 18 degrees Celsius, I broke out the sandals. May long weekend rules be damned, I may just pull out the white jeans too!
That leads me to my question; how are you with rules? Are you rigid and rule bound? Do you get apoplectic when people with over 10 items line up in the express checkout? Or do you interpret that sign to mean “just a few quick items – no need to count them – just be speedy”?
I ask this because we all have a relationship with rules in one way or another, and it will impact our parenting! Some people are actually allergic to rules and will do anything to bend, break, evade or challenge the rules. They feel rules are too controlling and conforming. Heaven forbid you hang up hum drum Christmas lights. Why not put pink plastic storks wearing Santa hats on the lawn instead?
I like rules, myself. I follow recipes to a T. I am more likely to run to the store to pick up a missing ingredient or google “substitution for egg”, rather than ad lib and get creative. I like that rules make things run smoothly and keep order. I can predict what is going to happen and act accordingly. I have been in social situations that had no apparent rules and realized how much I unknowingly rely on a social blue print to conduct myself. International travellers, you know exactly what I am talking about!
However, I can’t stand rules that make no sense to me.
I have to see the benefit of the rule or else I too can feel artificially constrained or demeaned. The difference in price for men and women’s dry cleaning of a shirt would be one such example. Why does the side of the shirt the buttons appear on change the price? I also appreciate being able to have a voice about the rules I live with. We have ways to change the rules, for example, I can petition to change the speed limit on my street.
With that in mind, think of your kids and your parenting. How did the rules of your house get established? Do you have a million rules, or hardly any? Do you ask for your child’s input on the rules, or are they are expected to simply live by them? Is there a way for your children to challenge a rule that seems out of date or unreasonable? Are the rules enforced consistently, or do you waiver, cave, and ignore them?
Parents don’t understand how upset kids can be when you are inconsistent and arbitrary. Some days the rule is that you can only have the iPad for 30 minutes. But, if mom and dad want to talk at a restaurant or get some household chores done, they allow for more time iPad time on their terms. Other days when mom and dad are cranky, they might arbitrarily take away iPad time because you’ve misbehaved.
When rules are enforced randomly from day to day it begins to feel like there are really no rules at all. Instead it feels like, at any time, the hammer could fall. Kids don’t feel safe in such an environment.
Imagine playing a game with rules like soccer. Everyone agrees to the rules beforehand, and no one gets upset when you enforce them. Now, imagine you have a ref who doesn’t call a noticeably out-of-bounds ball, giving the other team the advantage. You’d be furious, and rightfully so! The referee is there for a reason. The white chalk lines are there for a reason. The rules of the game are there for a reason. When everyone agrees on and follows the rules of the game, you can have a lot of fun playing soccer! But if you don’t all adhere, there is chaos and feelings of unfairness.
This applies to your family too. In your home you are the referee. You are there to enforce the rules that all the players have agreed upon. Consistency makes for more happiness and less confusion and chaos.
So, regardless if you’re a rule breaker or a keen follower, can you see how important rules are from a child’s perspective? Here are some quick tips to help you start enforcing rules fairly and consistently:
1) Pick one rule and ask the kids if it seems reasonable or if it needs to be re-considered, tweaked, updated, ditched.
2) Explain that, while you may have been inconsistent with enforcing this rule in the past, from this time forward you will be consistent.
3) Discuss and ask for input on what would be a reasonable consequence if the rule is not followed. Make sure the consequence is related, respectful, and reasonable. For example, taking away cell-phone privileges is unrelated to the misbehaviour of breaking curfew.
4) Try this new arrangement for one week and see if there is less conflict and more harmony.
5) Pick the next rule you want to revisit and repeat the process. Keep being consistent with enforcing BOTH the first rule and now the second rule as well.
6) If you start becoming inconsistent on rules – don’t add any more. Don’t worry, you’ll get in to the swing of things with more time.