Establishing rules and structures that everyone can live with

Children need structure and rules to feel safe and secure.  So, if you want to parent with conviction and consistency, you are going to need some of these rules.  But they need to be structured carefully, well thought through and established in a gentle and consistent way.  

And if you really want to make this a success, avoid laying down the law.  To have a positive impact that your child can grow and develop through, establish rules together.  Making this a meaningful task as you share in this process together.

Start with the boundaries and structures you need to offer safety.  Then consider those needed to function effectively. 

Once you have devised these two lists, consider whether the rules you already have in place are always being followed.  If not, you may wish to consider whether;

  • The rules are explicit and clear or unspoken and expected
  • All family members been involved in devising them
  • They fair to every family member

If the answer to any of these questions is no, this might explain any problems that you are experiencing.

Imposing order and rules with rigid obsession only seeks only to manipulate or control a child’s behaviour. 

When you look to impose order and rules simply “because you say so” you are essentially demanding obedience.  In other words, exerting your power over them because you are the adult.  While this might seem to work in the short term, take a moment and consider.  Within this approach, how do you think your child is learning to think for themselves?  Do you want them to automatically follow those more powerful without question?

If harsh punishments or the threat of them, are often heard or if your anger is frequently experienced, how can your child learn to deal with their own anger?

If their feelings are being ignored, over-ruled or neglected, where are they learning to have a voice?  Or to make the right choice in the bigger moments?

Children taught what to think, not how to think, are learning to be easily manipulated

When children frequently experience having rules enforced on them without a voice or the chance to express their feelings, they develop a “learned helplessness”.  This can see them seek approval in inappropriate ways.  So, instead look to guide your child to think for themselves.  When this happens,  then learn to make decisions – and mistakes – without fear or avoidance. 

Talk with your child about the rules used within the home.  Simply telling a child “Because I said so” teaches them little about the reasoning behind what you are saying.  Or how they can make future decisions without you.  Help them think about what they are doing and why they are doing it as you promote honesty and confidence. 

Repeatedly telling a child they are right or wrong influences how they think of themselves and what they think is right or wrong.  

You might be keen to share your thoughts about things with your child.  But to expect your child to think exactly as you do is a dangerous place to be.  The world is constantly progressing and we need to adapt along with it.  Do you really think exactly as your parents did – or your grandparents?  Would you want to?  

The style of parenting children experience has a great deal of influence on the way they develop.  So, take a moment and consider the rules and structures you live by.  Both the spoken and the unspoken ones.  Which of these are necessary to a happy and safe home environment?  And which cause battles with no real winners on any side?  If you can learn this early on, the teenage years will be a breeze!

This session is taken from our course: What Every Parent Should Know

Dr Kathryn Peckham is an Early Childhood Consultant, author and researcher and the founder of Nurturing Childhoods.  Providing all the knowledge, understanding and support you need to nurture your growing child.


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