...because we all have our motley moments!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Because That's the Rule!

It's funny how we "make a rule" for the things we know we want to stick to. Karly's post and the comments that followed it got me thinking about how and why we make rules. Sometimes our motivation is practical: "Last one out shuts the gate!" Sometimes it's for their safety: "Always wear your helmet when you ride your bike or scooter." Sometimes it's for our sanity: "If you're both going to sing, sing the same song!" And sometimes it's purely self-serving, which in the long-run serves the family: "Mommy needs privacy in the bathroom!"

When we actually say with authority that it's a rule, our kids know we feel it's important. Kids appreciate boundaries. They like to know what we expect of them.

That brings me to the subject of consequences. Beyond the baby and early toddler years, natural consequences are fair and appropriate. It's not fair to implement consequences for a behavior if they've never been warned about it before. That also applies to positive consequences. If there is a reward to be earned, they need to know how they can earn it or lose it before they enter a situation. "Kids who stay right with Mommy in the grocery store get a cookie in the bakery when we're done!" If it's a new rule we are trying to establish, they usually want to know why we need the rule. I don't mind telling them the brief reasoning behind it ("to keep you safe"). It helps them make sense of it and to know that we have their best interests in mind.

Dr. Spock says that we should "avoid threats as much as possible. They tend to weaken discipline. It may sound reasonable to say, "If you don't keep out of the street with your bicycle, I'll take it away." But in a sense, a threat is a dare--it admits that the child may disobey. It should impress him more to be firmly told he must keep out of the street, if he knows from experience that his parents mean what they say. On the other hand, if you see that you may have to impose a drastic penalty like taking away a beloved bike for a few days, it's better to give fair warning. It certainly is silly, and quickly destroys all a parent's authority, to make threats that aren't ever carried out or that can't be carried out. "

Now, when I read the threat he gave as an example, my teacher alarm bells started ringing. Both parts of the statement are very negative. Instead of saying, "If you don't keep out of the street with your bicycle, I'll take it away," it would be better with a positive slant: "Keep your bike on the driveway or you'll have to park it." I remember reading somewhere that you don't want to make every consequence something that you'll do to them. Rather, you put the ball in their court and make their consequences something they choose for themselves with their poor choices. "Keep your hands to yourself, or you'll have to sit on time out."

I'm not saying I have this discipline thing down pat, but these are the things I try to keep in mind when I'm dealing with kid behaviors I don't like. What are some of your indisputable family rules?


Sherrie said...

Thanks Donna! I need to be reminded on how to phrase things to my kids. I do well for a while, but then I often get overwhelmed and find my self in constant nagging and negative statements. I always agree that positive is the way to go, but I wish I was better at keeping it up on a regular basis. Thanks!

Bryssy said...

Our "official" house rules:

Be polite.
Make good choices.
Cry as much as you want, but only on the crying couch.
Take as many bites as you are old.

They are short and sweet but pretty much cover everthing.

Ticia said...

Mine are teenagers at this point so the rules are a little different now but some things are absolute.

No second chance to make the right decision.

They know what consequences they face and they will be carried out,it has never been up for debate.

It was made clear that mom and dad are a united front,so don't look for different answers.

Knowing the rules are always the same are a comfort to children.

There is nothing worse than a wishy washy parent.

Donna said...

So true, Ticia! A wishy-washy parent just encourages kids to try out that behavior again...hey, there's a good chance Mom won't do anything about it this time either, right?

We, too, had to institute the "What I say, goes" rule to keep them from seeking a "second opinion." Because our kids are still so little, they will blatantly ask the other parent, right in front of the first parent, for a different answer. We've learned to say, "Did you already ask Daddy/Mommy? And what did he/she say?"

Bryssy, I definitely think keeping it simple is wise. Too many rules can be overwhelming for young kids.

Sherrie, I often have to remind myself of my own "rules" for how to phrase things. I find myself getting too negative sometimes, and my kids just don't respond well to that!

Lindsay said...

Well I use the "golden rule" all the time. Do unto others and you would have them do unto you. Would you want your sister to hit you? Then you shouldn't hit her. I guess that's more what we talk about after time outs are given, but you get the idea. :)

oops gotta un..........

Maria said...

No whining! Is a rule.

I don't mind them asking for something, but when they start that whiny sing song voice it drives me bananas!

I make them ask whatever again in a "proper way".