If there’s one thing we know, it’s that parenting without rules is a next-to-impossible undertaking. Rules and limits provide a framework that helps guide kids’ behavior. The rules set in childhood play a part in determining the kind of adults your kids become. Rules teach kids that they might not always control what happens to them or have what they want, but that they are always responsible for how they react.
Rules rule, but only if they are set out right. We do more harm than good when we fail to enforce rules and limits with love and affection. Here are a few things to keep in mind to set rules and limits while ensuring that your relationship with your kid remains intact.
1 | Your child will act better if he feels better
You’ve probably noticed that you’re always better around people who appreciate you. You strive to do more for those you feel go out of their way for you. You’re happier when you meet a friendly face. Why would it be different with kids?
There is increasing evidence that kids are naturally inclined to do well and to please us. Misbehavior is often a “superficial” problem. It is often a sign of deeply concealed issues, although these issues can also be driven by simple basic needs such as hunger or even fatigue. For instance, a highly anxious or scared kid may cover up this anxiety by turning to aggressive behavior. A kid who gets teased at school may suddenly start experiencing regular meltdowns every time she has to go to school.
Evidence suggests that people behave according to what is expected of them. Our actions and words shape how kids view themselves. When we show kids they mean the world to us, they are likely to behave in line with our expectations. Kids from whom the best is expected are more likely to give their best. Similarly, when we constantly expect our kids to be “bad” and to misbehave, they are likely to be the worst versions of themselves.
Remember that how you treat your kids and how you show them their worth undoubtedly impacts their behavior, their ability and their desire to respect rules and limits. It also affects the type of relationship you build.
2 | Know how and when to negotiate
Kids would negotiate everything if we let them, which would eventually drive us up the wall. You cannot and should not negotiate everything. That said, regularly negotiating with kids helps set rules and limits that are fair for everyone.
Encouraging kids to participate in decision-making processes has multiple benefits. It teaches kids about problem-solving, helps foster independence, makes it more likely for kids to respect decisions made and is also one of the most effective ways to reduce kids’ procrastination.
Although younger kids also benefit from participating in decision-making, structured decision-making is likely to be more appropriate. For instance, your kid will find it easier to choose something to wear if she has only two or three outfits to choose from.
Much evidence suggests that negotiation is a powerful tool to help families deal with conflict and power struggles. As one study suggests, kids who participate in negotiation are more likely to enjoy a positive relationship with their parents and to be better behaved than kids raised in permissive or authoritarian families.
3 | Be firm but fair
Diane Baumrind’s studies have repeatedly shown that kids raised using a democratic parenting style have better social, academic and psychological outcomes. Democratic parenting means being firm but responsive. It means having clear expectations but being willing to listen to your kids’ points of view. Democratic parents are flexible, especially with regard to their negotiable values.
4 | Remember the golden rule
Would you still be friends if someone spoke to you how you speak to your kids? Would you accept your kid, or anyone else for that matter, to “do unto you as you do to him or her?”
Much of what kids learn, they learn from us. If you want your kids to treat you with respect, treat them with respect first. If you want them to listen to you, don’t just talk at them, connect with them first. Just like our feelings matter, kids’ feelings matter too.
Rules rule, but what remains when the kids are no longer kids? All strong relationships have to be nurtured to thrive and creating bonds is a long process that often requires work. The strongest bonds are built in childhood. More than one person will tell you that mending the bridges with estranged kids in adulthood requires a Herculean effort.
5 | Stop questioning every decision you make and everything your child does
We all get tired, anxious, and stressed, and these states have an impact on how we parent. We’re bound to yell more, or more likely to view our kids’ actions as misbehavior when we’re tired. Who wouldn’t lose it having to repeat the same thing over and over again while running late or trying to balance everything that needs to be done? The bottom line is that we’re all human.
Being a good parent is not about being perfect. It’s about being aware of our strengths but also being aware of our weaknesses. It means working on our weaknesses, for instance by making a conscious attempt to yell less. Being a good parent also means knowing when to apologize and what to apologize for.
Understanding we are all human also means understanding that kids are human too and that they will do things kids are supposed to do.
6 | No discipline method works all of the time
While adopting a positive discipline approach may improve your relationship with your kid, nothing guarantees that this approach will work all of the time and for every discipline issue. Don’t do the same thing over and over if you’re not getting the results you want. While a self-quieting space can do wonders for your kid, by no means does it work in every situation or with every kid.
Trying a different approach when everything you’ve tried doesn’t seem to be working does not make you a bad parent. The thing to remember is that effective discipline has common elements. Discipline is most effective when it occurs in a warm and loving environment.
7 | Get rid of the “good parent” label
The thing with labels is that they can quickly become limiting. Being a good parent means, first and foremost, being intentional in your parenting. It is not about following set rules laid out by someone else. Being a good parent means being conscious that how you interact with your kid affects him or her. It means aligning your parenting to your kid’s temperament, and parenting in ways that are in line with your values and both you and your kid’s strengths and weaknesses.
Effective discipline starts with being intentional about:
- Your discipline philosophy. What do you consider to be the role of discipline?
- Your values and behavior expectations
- Your strategy to ensure that you parent in a way that reflects those values
This week, reflect on the values that matter to you and your family and clearly identify what you expect from your child.
If you need help, my evidence-based workbook “The Science of Discipline Workbook” can walk you through the process to establish a mindful discipline strategy. It can help you:
a) Understand the reasons behind the failure of your discipline approach
b) Identify an effective discipline plan based on your values
c) Understand and reflect on your parenting style
d) Identify the characteristics of effective discipline strategies
e) Identify the different effective discipline tools and understand how you can use them effectively
Sections of this post appeared on parent.com