Tag Archive for limits

Parenting Goldilocks Style

Remember Goldilocks?  She went into the bears’ house, a stranger’s house in the middle of the woods, and tasted their porridge, their food. One was “too hot.” One was “too cold.” One was “just right.” Then, she laid down in their beds. One was “too hard.” One was “too soft.” One was “just right.” She actually fell asleep in the nice comfortable bed. (Why she felt so bold to do this, I don’t know. Anyway….) A study from the University of New Hampshire found the same can be said of parenting. One parenting style is “too cold, too hard, too much.” Another style is “too hot, too soft, too little.” And one is “just right.” Let me briefly describe each style so you can decide which style describes your parenting practice.

Researchers call the style of parenting that is “too cold….too hard…too much” Authoritarian Parenting. Authoritarian parents love their children but believe rules will make everyone safe and healthy. As a result, they tend to focus on discipline more than relationship.  They set very high standards for their children but remain somewhat distant and cold while enforcing the rules. They have no patience for bad behavior and little trust in their children’s ability to behave without a strong structure in place. So, they punish misbehavior quickly and severely. Research suggests that children do not see the authoritarian parent as a legitimate authority figure. As a result, they listen less and rebel more. They grow discontent, withdrawn, and distrustful. No, authoritarian parenting is “too cold…too hard…too much.”

The style of parenting described as “too hot…to soft…too little” is known as Permissive Parenting. Permissive parents love their children as well, but they hate to see their children suffer or experience any discomfort. They believe warm relationships will cure every ail, fix every problem, and mend every flaw. In their focus on relationship, permissive parents tend to be non-demanding and non-controlling as they strive to be their child’s “best friend.” They have few boundaries and rarely enforce the boundaries they do have…after all, enforcing a boundary results in discomfort for their children. At the same time, they are very warm and receptive, nurturing and caring. Research, however, suggests that children of permissive parents are the less self-reliant. They explore less and learn less self-control. When they do explore, they run the risk of personal harm because there are few boundaries in place to protect them. Permissive parenting is just “too hot…to soft…to little.” Children need more.

The style of parenting that is “just right” is known as Authoritative Parenting. Perhaps the most important word in describing authoritative parents is “and.” They establish rules and develop strong relationships. They can be demanding and warm, set high expectations and remain receptive to their children’s needs. The authoritative parent sets rules and limits and remains willing to explain the reasons for those rules and limits. They listen to their children’s discomfort with the limit and still enforcing that limit for their children’s benefit. As their children mature, they exhibit a willingness to negotiate some limits and make age appropriate adjustments. Children view their authoritative parents as legitimate authorities and become less likely to engage in disobedient and delinquent behaviors. They grow self-reliant, self-controlled, and content under the tutelage and guidance of their authoritative parent. Authoritarian parenting is “just right.”

The question is: which parenting style describes your parenting? Don’t worry if you fall in the authoritarian or permissive style right now. You can always change to become the authoritative parent at any time. When you do, you’ll find it more often works “just right.”

Let the Children Bump!!

Loving parents establish loving limits for their children. It’s true. We need to do it. We set limits for their safety and the safety of others. We develop limits to teach them polite behaviors and mature attitudes that will allow them to find success outside the home. We put limits in place to guide our children toward becoming the best versions of themselves. But, you know what our children do with those limits. They bump up against them. They push the limits. They try to sneak around the limits and undermine the limits. Sometimes they bump so hard against the limits we get angry and frustrated. Don’t get too frustrated though because children bumping up against limits is a great thing, especially when we respond in love. Children bumping up against limits provides great opportunities and benefits. Let me explain.

  • When children bump up against limits they learn how to manage their frustrations. Life will not give them everything they want. They will encounter roadblocks and limits outside the family. Best to learn how to manage the frustration around limits in the loving womb of family rather than the harsh desert of the world. Let them bump…and help them learn how to manage the frustration of bumping a limit in a healthy, mature manner.
  • When children bump up against limits they learn about our true values. They learn long-term character is more important than immediate gratification or temporary wishes. They learn which values we truly find important and will “stick to our guns” for and which we will “give in” on. They learn which values we truly hold dear and which values we are willing to forfeit to avoid the hassle. They learn which values they really need to internalize and which they leave behind as they leave home.
  • When children bump up against our limits we have an opportunity to show our them love by explaining the reasons for the limit. They learn we believe in their ability to understand the reason behind the limit. They learn we respect them enough to explain those reasons to them in a calm manner. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we argue with them about the reasons. We simply inform them of the reasons. Then we show our love by standing firm and not budging while they bump up against a good limit.
  • When children bump up against a limit we have an opportunity to show them our love by listening to their outpouring of emotion. We can hear their explanation and simply be with them in their frustration. They will learn we love them enough to understand their frustrations and remain present in their anger. They learn we love them enough to hear them and understand their concerns…which brings me to the next bullet…
  • When children bump up against a limit we learn about our children. As they explain their frustration and “everything wrong with the limit,” we gain insight into our children. We may even find their complaint makes sense. We may even discover a need to modify the limit to better support their safety and growth. We will encounter times when our children’s insight and wisdom will influence us to change the limit…and that shows the depth of our love as well.

When children bump up against limits we have established for their safety and healthy development we can become frustrated. But remember, children bumping up against the limits presents wonderful opportunities to teach and love. Let them bump and find a loving, gracious limit that holds them secure. Let them bump and learn. Let them bump and hold them close.

The Burden of a Smartphone

It has happened to me several times now. I meet a child in fifth, sixth, or seventh grade who is exhausted, depressed, and ready for a rest.  After a few questions I discover they do not go to sleep until 2, 3, or even 4 o’clock in the morning! Why? Because they are “on their phone texting friends and playing games.” These experiences, combined with an exert (A Smartphone Will Change Your Child in Ways You Might Not Expect or Want) from Naomi Schaefer Riley’s new book Be the Parent: Stop Banning Seesaws and Start Banning Snapchat, increased my understanding of the smartphone as a burden for our children. Yes, giving a preteen or teen a smartphone places a burden on them. We, as parents, need to know that burden and establish parameters to teach them how to manage that burden. How is a smartphone a burden?

  • When children receive a smartphone they move into a culture of “24/7 popularity competition” in the words of Anderson Cooper in the documentary Being Thirteen. They begin to judge their popularity on likes and shares. They see posts in which their friends are having fun without them, maybe even during an activity to which they were not even invited. Selfies and group selfies taken during “fun activities” engaged in “without me” raise thoughts of “not being popular enough.” “Maybe they don’t even like me” and “why are they hanging out with them after what they did to me” are thoughts that cross many a preteen’s mind as they see pictures of their peers having fun without them. Loneliness increases. Feelings of isolation can even flood over many a teen in this situation.
  • At the same time, it becomes more difficult to avoid the drama of the preteen and teen life. “Who said what about whom,” “who does what,” and “who does what with whom” flood the digital airways, popping up on phones 24/7. It’s hard for your teen to go into their room and “get away from it all” because “it all” follows them wherever they take their phones.
  • This also means news is constantly at their fingertips. News of school shootings, Korean bomb threats, police brutality, catastrophic tsunamis in distant lands, and threats of political upheaval in countries they may have never heard of pop up on their phone at all hours of the day. And, little to no positive headlines pop up on the news.  Instead, a steady stream of random “breaking news” pops up with no coherent story behind them. This constant stream of disconnected catastrophes can overwhelm our children with information, increasing their level of anxiety.
  • This constant flow of information includes texts, snapchats, and instagram pics from friends as well. Our children feel obligated and pressured to respond to texts and other digital “pokes” that pop up on their phone. They fear their friends will accuse them of “ignoring” them if they do not answer immediately. And, they feel ignored if their friends do not respond to them immediately. Imagine the pressure of needed to respond to others every minute of every day no matter your current activity.

These are only four ways in which a smartphone becomes a burden that can increase our children’s sense of exhaustion, pressure, anxiety, and depression. It also raises concern for their safety from predators and bullies or the pressure to look “perfect” in the selfie. So, what’s a parent to do? Parents can help their children learn to manage this burden by establishing limits for cell phone usage. Here are a few ideas to help.

  1. Learn the phone settings. Determine which “pop ups” and notifications your child needs and which just cause more stress. Turn off unnecessary notifications.
  2. Do not let your child charge their phone in the bedroom. Instead, plug it in overnight to charge in the kitchen or in your bedroom. It is easier to not respond to a peer’s text because “my mom has the phone after 9” than ignoring it when it is charging next to “my bed.”
  3. During dinner and family meals enjoy one another’s company. No phones allowed. No texting. No checking email. No checking Facebook or Instagram. No reading “pop ups” and notifications. Put the phone someplace else and enjoy one another’s company.
  4. Enjoy one another during family outings too. No responding to texts. No checking Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media app. Leave the phones in a purse, backpack, or pocket and enjoy the company of the people you are with.
  5. Parents maintain access to the phones their children use. Our children may manage the phone very well but find themselves bullied through the phone or sent inappropriate pics through the phone. So, parents need to have full access. That means parents know the passwords for their children’s phones. And, parents check their children’s phones from time to time.  A good time to check the phone is when it is charging in the kitchen overnight. Any inappropriate materials will need to be discussed with the child who uses the phone.

What other limits might help ease the burden of a Smartphone?

The Crucial “AND-Factor” in Parenting

John behaved terribly in Junior Church. He didn’t sit still. He didn’t listen. He talked constantly. He distracted the other children. He caused conflict. Finally, at my whit’s end, I told him, “I’m going to talk to your mother about your behavior today.”  So, after dismissing the children, I cleaned up the room and headed to the sanctuary where I could talk with John’s mother. As I approached, John’s mother smiled and said, “Isn’t Johnny a good kid. He told me how bad he was in class today. He said he was sorry.  He’s such an honest, good kid.”  I was shocked that he had already told his mother. I asked, “Did you talk to him about the need to change his behavior?” “No, he told me what he had done wrong.”  “Did he apologize for misbehaving?” “No, not really. But he told me about it. He’s such a good boy.” “Will you discipline him so this behavior doesn’t continue?” “Well, I don’t think I need to do anything. Boys will be boys. And he did come to tell me what he did wrong. He’s such an honest boy.” And, with that the conversation ended. I’m sure you’re not surprised to learn his disruptive behavior did not end.  John’s mother loved her son. She had acceptance down pat but she was not great on limits. As a result, John’s behavior didn’t change. He continued to misbehave. She was missing an important factor in effective parenting: the “AND-factor.” Every effective parent practices the “AND-factor.” Let me share a just three examples to explain.

  • Effective parents practice acceptance toward their children “AND” they set firm limits for their children. They accept and acknowledge what their children want “AND” maintain a firm limit. They even accept and acknowledge their children’s disappointment in not getting what they want “AND” still hold the limit firm. The parent using the “AND-factor” makes comments like, “I know you would like a cookie right now but it will spoil your dinner so you’ll have to wait until after dinner” or “I know you’d like your driver’s license now but you came in late and drunk two times in the last month so we can’t trust you with your license.” In both instances the parent acknowledges what their child wants “AND” maintains a firm and reasonable limit.
  • Effective parents remain available “AND” do not become intrusive. They remain involved in their children’s lives “AND” encourage independence. They remain available to help resolve problems that arise, but they do not step in to fix it. They remain available “AND” they let their children work it out independently as much as possible.
  • Effective parents practice patient acceptance toward their children “AND” they remain true to which behaviors are acceptable and which are not acceptable. These parents remain calm when their children misbehave. “AND,” they firmly tell their children what behaviors they will or will not tolerate. They wait patiently for their children to get ready for appointments (like catching the school bus) “AND” they encourage timeliness, even if that means their children receive a consequence when they are late. They remain calm in the midst of misbehavior “AND” they will enforce a consequence for that misbehavior.

I’m sure you get the idea. Other examples of the “AND-factor” include…

  • Respecting your needs “AND” respecting your children’s needs.
  • Encouraging open expression of feelings, even negative feelings and disagreements “AND” expecting, even demanding, those expressions remain polite and respectful.

Effective parents practice the “AND-factor” in many areas. Sometimes it’s a struggle “AND” it always produces the best results. So start practicing the “AND-factor” now.  Strive to do it perfectly “AND” be patient with the times you fall short.  Work hard at it “AND” have fun with it along the way. I could keep going “AND” you’d quit reading…so I better just quit now.

An Ounce of Prevention

Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That’s a wise saying for many areas of life, including parenting. It is much more satisfying to prevent the crisis rather than deal with a problem after it arises; to look ahead and avoid the trouble rather than deal with the aftermath of troubling behavior.

With that in mind, here are a few preventative steps to take with your children.

  • If you want your children to eat healthy foods, eat regular family meals in which you serve healthy food.
  • Remove TV’s and game systems from your children’s bedrooms to prevent your children from spending all their time in their bedroom.
  • Buy fruits and healthy snacks to keep in your house instead of junk food if you want your children to limit the amount of junk food they eat.
  • If you want to limit how much time your children spend playing video games, get them involved in community activities with your family and as individuals (like sports, dance, music, youth group, etc.).
  • Build strong relationships with your children by showing interest in their activities, having regular family meals, and engaging in open communications with them to decrease the chances of your children becoming involved in drug use.
  • Model enjoyment of reading, read with your children, and share books with your children to raise children who read.
  • Involve your children in significant household chores and do the chores together if you want your children to become hard workers.
  • Each day spend time with your children identifying things for which you are grateful to help prevent children who develop a sense of entitlement.
  • Model kindness to others and to your family in order to prevent your children from becoming rude.
  • If you want your children to become creative and learn to have fun, get toys that require imagination— like dolls, action figures, and empty boxes.
  • If you want your house to be the house where all the kids come and so allow you to keep an eye on what they’re doing, keep lots of food in the house and build positive relationships with your children’s friends.
  • Teach your children an emotional vocabulary as they experience various emotions in order to prevent future meltdowns.
  • Apologize when you are wrong to prevent irresponsibility in your children.

Each of these preventive steps will lead to healthier children and a happier home.  Benjamin Franklin was right. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”

4 Tips for Raising a Violent Narcissist…OR NOT!!

Have you ever wondered how to create a self-absorbed, entitled, child who becomes violent when they don’t get their way? Probably not. I mean, who wants their child to become a violent narcissist. But, you might raise an entitled violent child unintentionally, by accident, if you don’t watch out. Dr. Calvete and her team of researchers wondered about a possible link between narcissism and violence in adolescents. To explore that possible link, they interviewed 591 adolescents and identified four elements that contribute to the creation of a violent narcissist (Read a review of this study here). Just to make sure you don’t unintentionally practice any of these four elements in your family, let me briefly describe each one.

  1. A distant relationship between parent and child was linked to narcissism in children. A lack of quality time as well as a lack of affection between parent and child contributes to a distant relationship. If you want to raise a narcissist, keep your parent-child relationships distant.
  2. A lack of positive communication helps keep the relationship between parent and child distant. Children who experience little encouragement, acknowledgement, constructive discipline, or intimate connection have a greater chance of becoming an aggressive narcissist.
  3. Exposure to family violence was linked to adolescent aggression directed toward parents. Children learn and practice what they see modeled in the family.
  4. A permissive parenting style sets the stage for an entitled adolescent, one who thinks he deserves everything he wants right here, right now! When he doesn’t get what he wants, he might just become angry and aggressive.

Nobody wants to raise a violent narcissist. We want to raise loving, caring adolescents. To do that, we have to avoid the four elements above. Better yet, replace them with these four family ideals instead.

  1. Develop an intimate family. Spend quality time together. Eat together. Play together. Worship together. Go places together. Share healthy affection like hugs, high-fives, or fist bumps with one another. Learn about one another’s interests. Ask about one another’s day. You get the idea. Develop an intimate family.
  2. Develop a kind and gentle family. Listen before advising. When problems arise, problem-solve together. Learn how to express anger and hurt in a calm manner. Learn to self-soothe. Do not instigate or provoke. Work together to achieve goals. Accept responsibility for mistakes. Lovingly hold one another accountable.  Be kind and gentle, tenderhearted with each other.
  3. Learn positive communication skills. Season your speech with grace. Speak with kindness. Offer encouragements and praise. Address difficulties politely. Offer constructive criticism in a loving manner with the goal of promoting growth. Enjoy intimate conversations. Compliment. Offer words of affirmation and admiration.
  4. Practice authoritative parenting. Authoritative parenting creates an environment in which love and affection thrive and grow within the loving structure of clearly defined limits and boundaries. Both love and limits, relationships and rules, bonding and boundaries are needed to have a healthy, loving family. Practice both in a loving manner.

Put these four family ideals into practice and you will not raise a self-entitled violent narcissist. Instead, you will be the proud parent of a kind, compassionate, and caring young adult.

“One is the Loneliest…” Well It Used To Be Anyway

Three Dog Night may have been right in 1968 when they sang: “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do. Two can be as bad as one; it’s the loneliest number since the number one.” Today though, we might need to modify the lyrics to: “Twitter is the loneliest application that you’ll ever do. Snapchat’s just as bad as well; it’s the loneliest app since a Pinterest pin.” I know, the lyrics need work; BUT, a sense of social isolation is moving toward epidemic levels among young adults and a recent study from the University of Pittsburgh suggests social media is a contributing culprit (read the review in Medical News Today by clicking here).

Primack and a team of researchers administered questionnaires to 1,787 young adults between the ages of 19- and 32-years-old. The questionnaire asked about frequency and time spent on social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and Pinterest among others. The results suggest:

  1. Those who used social media more than two hours a day were TWO TIMES more likely to feel socially isolated than those who used it less than half an hour a day.
  2. Those who visit social media platforms 58 times a week or more had THREE TIMES the risk of feeling socially isolated as those who visited 9 times a week or less.

Why would social media use be associated with greater social isolation? Maybe time spent on social media left less time for actual face-to-face interactions. Or, maybe the self-portrayal people post on social media represents only a façade, an unrealistic ideal that contributes to feelings of jealousy and withdrawal stemming from thoughts like “Everyone seems happy but me. I’m just no fun to be around.” Or, perhaps it could be that seeing friends having fun increases feelings of exclusion and, as a result, social isolation stemming from thoughts like “No one wants me around anyway.”

Whatever the reason, I don’t want my spouse and children chained to a sense of loneliness and social isolation as they message on Facebook, send out a tweet, or post a pic on Instagram. I don’t want their loneliness to increase with every pin they peruse on Pinterest and “snapchat” they have. I want them to feel socially connected…and apparently too much social media interferes with social connection. So, here’s the plan:

  1. Have family times with no technology. Family meals are one great place for family time (The Lost Art of Family Meals). Another great family time includes family game nights (Unplug for Family Fun). You can try any of the times mentioned in (Family Fun Night).
  2. Get involved in some community activities. Play sports. Join a club. Go to church. Enjoy a play. The more involved your family becomes in fun activities, the less likely they will desire to spend long periods of time on social media. After all, it’s hard to dribble a basketball or march in a parade while Snapchatting.
  3. Establish tech-free times in your home. You could choose to make one night a week teach free or an hour a day tech free. Whatever you choose, make sure to engage one another during that time. Talk, share stories, tell jokes, discuss current events, go for a walk…anything you find fun, interactive, and relationship building (Enjoy “Steak” Your Claim on Family Dinner as you think about tech-free times in your home).

There’s the plan—cut down on social media and pump up the social connection. I’m starting this week. Will you join me?

A More Powerful “No” to Parent Effectively

Our children don’t like to hear it, but we need to say it…and they need to hear it! It’s true. They need to hear us tell them “no” at the appropriate times. They need to hear “no” so they remember they can’t have everything they desire or do everything they want to do. They need to hear “no” so they learn the limits of appropriate behavior and the boundaries of safe behavior. They need to hear “no” so they can learn to say “no” for themselves. (Read Prelude, Fugue, and Variation to learn more.)  In fact, Magda Gerba revealed great insight when she said, “A child who is never told ‘no’ is a neglected child.” So, do not neglect your child, tell them “no.” But, make your “no” effective with these two components.

  1. Effective “no’s” are well-timed. Saying “no” at the wrong time can make things worse. I remember going to a children’s camp where, at the beginning of the week, the camp leaders explained the rules: “No throwing rocks.” “No going into the woods.” As the leaders stated these limits, these “no’s,” I saw the campers eyes light up with the realization that there were rocks to throw and woods to explore.  The “no’s” had the opposite effect of the leaders’ intent. The “no’s” aroused previously unknown possibilities in their awareness. Rather than preventing unwanted behaviors, they presented the possibility of new behaviors. The “no’s” were ill-timed. A well-timed “no” increases safety, like “No darting into the street” or “No texting and driving.”  A well-timed “no” promotes health, like “No cookies before dinner” or “No staying up all night to text.” Remember, an effective “no” is well-timed.
  2. An effective “no” needs to be part of a larger and thoughtful repertoire of variations on “no.” In fact, an effective “no” may not even sound like a “no.” One of the most effective ways to say “no” is to add a “yes.” For instance:
    1. Rather than “No hitting,” try saying “Keep your hands to yourself.”
    2. Instead of “No cookie before dinner” try “We’re saving the cookies for dessert.”
    3. “No yelling in the house” could become “Please use your indoor voice” or “You can yell all you want outside.”
    4. Rather than saying “Don’t you get angry at me” try “It’s OK to get mad, but you can still speak politely and act nice…even when you’re mad.”
    5. “No running” may become more effective as “Please walk with me and keep me company.”

Our children need us to speak “no’s” into their lives for their safety, health, and overall well-being. Following these two principles—making your “no” well-timed and developing a large and thoughtful repertoire of variations on “no”—will make your “no’s” even more effective.

Prelude, Fugue, & Variation in “NO”

Prelude in “NO”: Learning to tell your children “no” will benefit them for a lifetime. They won’t like to hear it; after all, they have a mind of their own and your “no” reminds them they can’t do everything they want to do. Still, they need your “no.” They lack the experience and knowledge to make wise choices in many situations. They need your “no” to set the limits and boundaries of safety. They need your “no” to promote their healthy physical, emotional, and spiritual development. They need your “no” so they can learn to say “no” for themselves as they become more independent.

parenting challengeFugue in “NO”: Saying “no” effectively is built on at least four foundational themes. Theme #1: children deserve our respect, even when we have to set a limit. No need to scream and yell, name call, or intimidate and threaten. Instead, remain considerate and respectful when saying “no.” Theme #2: learn to say “yes” as well as “no.” Effective “no’s” are balanced by “yeses.” Theme #3: effective “no’s” are based on values rather than the arbitrary mood of parents. They promote safety, health, and respectful interactions. Theme #4: parents communicate a good “no” with their voice, body, and facial expression. Master “the look,” the “polite but firm voice,” and the “strong but loving stance” with your “no” and each will come to speak “no” alone as well.

Variations on “NO”: You can communicate “no” in a variety of ways. In fact, the more ways you can say “no,” the more effective your “no” becomes. Let’s expand on the simple theme of saying “no” with a few variations.

  • Personalize the “no” by adding your child’s name. “No, John.” Say it calmly and politely but with a firm tone of voice. You will find adding your child’s name adds power to your “no.”
  • Add touch to your “no.” Put your hand gently on your child’s shoulder when you communicate “no.” Hold their hand while you say “no.” Gently move them away from the object of “no” and toward some other object or activity. Touch is a powerful tool in making your “no” effective.
  • Add eye contact to your “no.” Make sure you and your child look at each other when you tell him “no.” Let him see the love and concern in your eyes. Look for the understanding in his.
  • Change the setting. Rather than simply saying “no,” move to another room. Leave the area or redirect them to a different area. For instance, change the setting from inside to outside when the behavior gets too active or loud for inside.
  • Change the wording of your “no.” Use a word other than “no.” The words you choose will depend on your child’s age. For instance, you might say things like “Yuck, don’t touch,” or “Dirty,” or “Not now, how about tomorrow?” You get the idea. Be creative in setting limits and saying “no.”
  • Add a “yes” to positive substitutes. “No, you can’t have a cookie but you can have an apple.” In this way, you can redirect your child to a different and more positive behavior. This variation will help your child learn to accept a “no” and seek a positive alternative to meet their needs.
  • Change the timing. Sometimes a parent’s “no” simply reflects the timing of the behavior. Help your child learn the best time for behavior with your “no” and an explanation. “Don’t yell in the library. Wait until we’re outside.” “No, you can’t call your grandparents now, it’s too late. We’ll call earlier in the day tomorrow.”

Practice this Prelude, Fugue, and Variation in “NO” and you will hear your “no” become increasingly more moving and effective.

Family Rules: The Guardrails of Safety

From the time my children could walk (and even before), my family has enjoyed walking along the ridge of Mt. Washington in Pittsburgh, PA. Our daughters often ran ahead of us and darted out onto the overlooks. They would run right to the edge of the overlook and MtWash3peer through the fence at the panoramic view of Pittsburgh and the three rivers. We enjoyed those walks. Others did too. We saw high school couples taking prom pictures with the city of Pittsburgh as a backdrop. We even watched one romantic wedding proposal (she answered “yes”). We looked forward to walking, running, and skipping across the ridge of Mt. Washington; and, we never worried about our children’s safety. We simply enjoyed our family while looking over the ridge at the three rivers of Pittsburgh. Know why we never worried? Guardrails! Guardrails lined the ridge and each overlook. They kept us (and our children) from “going too far” and falling over the edge. They protected us. They added to our safety and allowed us to simply focus on enjoying one another in the moment.

Loving rules act as guardrails in families. They clearly delineate the limits and keep family members from “going too far.” They protect family members from hurting themselves or one another. They add a measure of safety to our lives and allow family members to enjoy one another more freely. All families benefit from clear, concise rules that create security. Establishing effective rules can prove a challenge. In fact, the rules may vary according to family, ages, places, or times. But, if you keep these five principles in mind when establishing family rules, you will enjoy the benefits of a healthy security and growing intimacy.

  • MtWash2Keep rules to a minimum. Too many rules become a burden and take the focus away from enjoying the relationship. Besides, you don’t need a rule for every situation. Some things are simply taught during daily interactions and don’t require a formal rule. Rather than making a rule for every situation, focus on rules that promote safety and respectful interactions. (Read Lincoln on the Parental Tyrant)
  • Establish reasonable rules. Rules are most effective when they make sense, when they have a logical foundation. When children ask about the reason for a certain rule, give them a clear and concise age appropriate reason. If the only reason for a rule is “because I said so,” you might want to reconsider that rule. (Read Because I Said So to learn more)
  • Make sure the rule is enforceable…and that you are willing to enforce it. Nothing undermines a good rule like lack of follow through. Enforceable rules focus on actions and behaviors—not attitudes, feelings, or thoughts. We cannot enforce an attitude, feeling, or way of thinking. However, we can enforce appropriate behaviors reflective of those attitudes, feelings, or thoughts. Effective rules focus on those behaviors. They define specific behavioral expectations and the realistic consequences related to them.
  • Effective consequences match the behavior. In other words, make sure the punishment fits the crime. A four-year-old who neglects to brush their teeth requires a very different response than a sixteen-year-old caught drinking. The rules and the consequences need to fit the situation and the child. (Parenting Advice from Horton the Elephant offers more)
  • Effective rules are undergirded by loving relationships. Vague, ambiguous rules result in too much slack and free reign to children who do not have the experience or wisdom to make some of those choices. Too many rules and rules based on “absolute black and white thinking” result in a lack of needed flexibility. They create a rigidity that prevents children from internalizing the “spirit of the law” and making it their own. The balance between these two extremes, between permissiveness and rigidity, is found in rules that flow from loving relationships. (Read Relationships Rule for more)

These five principles will help you establish loving, clear, effective rules that will protect your family from “going too far” and allow you to more fully enjoy your family.

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