Reasonable, Simple, Consistent.

In order for children to be able to “own” the rules themselves, they need to be based on just a few simple principles that can be easily explained and understood. These principles need to be “set in stone”, unchanging, and need to be treated as “truths” which were not “made up” by the parents but simply “are”. Thus, the worst possible rule is: “You will obey your mother and father”. This rule destroys all other rules.

Did you always obey your mother and father?
Would you want your child to obey you if
you told them to jump off a cliff?

Rules need to come from a “higher authority” than the parents. If they come from the parents, then the parents can change them at any time and the child can never truly make them their own.

Rules also need to be reasonable, allowing children an adequate range of freedom. They cannot be too restrictive. Learning how to make your own choices is as important as learning to enforce your own internal rules growing up. Rules that prevent a child from doing this are harmful. Rules need to respect the child’s own individuality and autonomy. Rules should define the boundaries of a large playing field. As long as the child stays within those boundaries, he should have freedom. When she crosses “out of bounds” the child should be able to count on parents to swiftly, calmly, and surely enforce the rules.

While it may be reasonable to have a rule which says,
“You will wear clothes”, it is not reasonable to have
a rule that says you will wear a particular
style of clothes, clothes that match, or the clothes
mommy or daddy choose for you on a particular day.

With the above criteria in mind, I would suggest that most parents really only need
4 rules to raise their children well. Here they are:

  • We Don’t Hurt Other People:This means that we do not hit, kick, bite or scratch. It also means that we do not steal or destroy other people’s property unless we are willing and able to replace it. It means that we do not tease, torment, or discriminate.
  • We Don’t Do Things Which Are Dangerous:
  • This includes things which are inappropriately risky such as playing with knives, matches, or going near the stove. It also includes things like not leaving the house without telling parents where we are going and when we will be back, not talking to strangers, and it impacts on things like how we answer the doorbell or the telephone.
  • We Take Responsibility for Our Own Actions: By this, we do not necessarily mean cleaning up the mess we made. While that may be appropriate in an older child, that requires a capacity to do such a project physically and mentally which many young children do not yet have. The most important aspect of this is: “We tell the truth, and we say we’re sorry”.

Imagine your child put a baseball through the neighbor’s window.
If he or she comes to you and says “I accidentally threw the
baseball through the neighbor’s window and it broke, I’m sorry”
then you go over to the neighbor’s and they apologize to
the neighbor as well, you are not going to be upset
about having to pay for the replacement window for your child.
On the other hand, if your child doesn’t tell anybody,
when confronted denies they did it, and
then refuses to apologize you are quite
rightly going to “have a problem” with that.

  • We Conform – We Are A Member Of The Group: This is the most complicated and difficult rule. We are all members of many different groups and we behave differently and observe different roles in different settings. You behave differently at work than you do at home. You behave differently with friends than you do with family. You behave differently with clients than you do with co-workers. Some groups we have a choice over whether to belong, other groups we do not have a choice. The basic rule is this: If you want to be a member of a group, then you must behave in those ways that allow the group to function AS a group. If a child grew up not understanding this basic idea, they will have great troubles succeeding in life.

The first group anyone is a member of is their family and,
until they are 18, children have no choice
about being a member of that group.
As they get older they become members of other groups –
they become students, friends, they join clubs.
A child does not have to become a Boy Scout or a Girl Scout,
but if they want to become a scout, they have to wear the
scout uniform and do “scout things”.

Thus, there are many rules that you as parents should enforce that are going to be, in some cases, unique to your particular family, in other cases, unique to our culture. They are the rules that allow your family to live together under one roof in peace. They may include such things as, “we eat at mealtime”, “we go to bed at bedtime”, “we bath and brush teeth”, “we wear clothes”, etc. It is important to remember in the context of the family that these rules are legitimate only insofar as they apply to all of the members of the group. It is only reasonable to have a rule that says you must wear clothes if the parents are not in the habit of roaming around the house naked. Likewise, it is only reasonable to have a rule that we eat at just at mealtimes in a family with the parents do not routinely snack. It should not only be assumed, but explicitly stated that parents have bed times just like children do, they are only later because the parents are older and when the children reach that age, their bedtime will be that late too. As the child becomes older and joins other groups, he will naturally learn that certain rules apply only to certain situations. There will be things that he can do at home that he cannot do at school and visa versa. There will be things that he can do at home, but not at grandmother’s house and visa versa.