If you’re unsure of whether you have too many parenting rules, this post will help you nail it down.
The other night my son bounced a ball so high it hit the ceiling fan.
Nothing broke or shattered… but that familiar feeling rose up inside me that said I needed to state the rule and enforce it.
“No throwing inside the house,” I said.
My 4-year-old looked at me and then made a Light Bulb face.
“How bout I just roll it? That way nothing will break!”
What's in this post...
I Had an Internal Debate About My Parenting Rules
Technically, it feels like I should say no throwing/rolling/or ball playing of any kind…
But, that seems feels like I may be overdoing it. Honestly, I don’t actually care if they roll balls all over the house as long as nothing is going airborne or breaking a TV.
The dilemma was this… should I enforce a parenting rule that seems right even though I don’t actually care?
In the end, I decided that If it’s not a problem for me, there’s no reason to make that rule. Honestly, it won’t stick anyways…
I have 5 kids aged 6 and under… and there’s no way I’m going to try and enforce rules I don’t actually care about.
So, I told him, “Hmm, looks like you’re being really careful. Rolling the ball is fine by me.”
The fact is, having too many rules that you don’t actually care about just means you won’t enforce them. And honestly, kids will get confused.
All the rules weren’t making the kids act better, they were just stressing me out…and confusing the kids.
You Don’t Need Lots of Parenting Rules, You Just Need The Right Ones
My husband and I have been on a quest lately to cut out the rules we don’t care about.
Yes, we care about rules that much! The most important tip is this: make sure your parenting rules line up with your boundaries. There is a difference!
Our goal was to start parenting rules based on our boundaries, so we could strop trying to enforce rules that we did’t care about.
Rules Are Boundaries and Boundaries Are Walls
Think of this: a boundary is like a wall.
You don’t try to walk through a wall… because you can’t.
Instead, you go through a door. Seems simple, right?
Here is how it works:
- You kid’s should know that there are some boundaries that are like walls…there’s no way to wiggle through them.
- With the rules that come from this boundary, they know you won’t allow it. PERIOD.
- There are consequences if rules based on this boundary are broken. Your kid’s should expect these consequence.
If you don’t feel that strongly about a boundary or rule, it’s time to reconsider it.
For example, some boundaries we tell children are actually like doors…and that’s ok. It’s ok as long as you plan it that way!
But…lets call is what it is!
These types of boundaries are flexible rules…or Doors. They charge with age, independence, and how busy mom is.
Children should expect consistency and know which of your boundaries are truly walls, and which ones you allow some independence in.
Examples of strong boundaries & flexible parenting rules:
In our Language of Listening® paradigm, we see boundaries like this.
- A Strong Boundary (Wall)- Everyone must be done at the dinner table before anyone get’s up and moves around, putting dishes away, playing (etc).
- A Flexible Rule (Door)- Mom wan’t me to eat a healthy snack, but sometimes I can have cookies and chocolate milk instead.
Help prepare your kids for life, one skill at a time. Simple, easy skills every month!Learn More
Is is a Wall or a Door?
The key is to stop pretending doors are walls. Have firm boundaries that really matter to you… and use your flexible rules to build independence within your children.
The more rules you have… the more time you spend enforcing them because – as Large Family Logistics says – “what you expect you must inspect.”
Ultimately, you do not want to waste your time trying to half-enforce rules you don’t care about.
Start brainstorming rules to make your family life more peaceful, connected, and strong!
Rules Don’t Work As Moral Teachers
Many of us have strong faith and values. Because of this, we hope and pray our children will adopt our values and live them out when they’re gone from our home.
We know that parents who practice what they preach… and walk the talk have a much higher chance of raising kids who carry on the family faith and values.
But, one area we often get wrong is this:
We think having a rule around the moral behavior (i.e. lying) is enough to teach our children our values.
The truth is… children are much more likely to carry on our values if they feel loved, accepted, and connected with us. Simply by being part of our family they will understand our values.
Articulating them to kids simply reinforces what they already know.
Feelings of closeness and high levels of time spent together are three times as likely to produce similar values and political views in offspring as are a parental emphasis on those views. – Buysse 2000 (source)
So, believe this and take yourself off the hook as the rule master. If there are firm boundaries you have around certain things (lying, stealing, destruction of property, etc.) then make those walls.
As for the other minor stuff that is more annoying than anything else, let it go.
Give Permission To Gain More Power
A feeling of powerlessness causes a ton of negative behaviors!
Children who feel like they never get their way, don’t have a voice, and aren’t understood will become defiant, angry, obstinate, and eventually even resigned to being a cog in the family machine.
It is. But, it’s also true.
Of course, you don’t give your children inappropriate decision-making power or freedom they aren’t ready for. At every age, there are freedoms you can allow that will give your child a sense of control over their own life.
People (children and adults alike) will do nearly anything they can to prove to themselves they have a sense of power over themselves.
If you’ve previously had a “rule” that your kids try to get around (like my son saying he’d roll the ball, not throw it) and you don’t actually care… have a phrase handy to give them power while maintaining your authority. Let me give you an example.
“Mom, can I have a snack?”
“No, baby, it’s only 30 minutes until dinnertime, I don’t want you to ruin your appetite.”
“What if I just eat carrots?”
(who can say no to this?)
“You know what, I’m okay with that.”
It’s that simple.
You’ve considered your child’s point of view and think “Why Not”, so you give them permission. This helps them feel a sense of control and you maintain your position as the Boundary Keeper.
This means that the permission came from you, within your boundaries.
Not to mention, you are validating their good decision-making skills. In our Language of Listening® framework we empower moms to hold their boundaries. This, in turn, helps children learn to succeed and develop new skills while honoring those boundaries.
Ask Yourself This Question…
Here’s a good question to ask yourself when you’re wondering whether to really establish a rule or not.
Do I actually care about this or do I think I should care about this?
You may be highly sensitive to noise so making a “inside voice” rule matters to you. It’s a wall.
Other mothers may not care about noise at all, for them it’s not in the rule book. You choose what really matters to you (not what you think should matter) and make those walls.
You’ll find yourself with far less policing duties throughout the day.
Kids need boundaries for safety and harmony.
Moms need boundaries for sanity and order.
Neither kids nor moms need rules just for the sake of it.
Rules Are Part of Family Culture
Your family culture is the traditions, habits, practices, and values your family has.
It’s who you are as a family. It is what makes you different than all the other families in the world. It’s your family identity.
Some of you might be thinking… “I don’t think we have a family culture.”
You’re wrong. You do. In fact, every family does.
- Are you readers?
- Do you like sports?
- Do you watch a lot of movies with the kids?
- Morning or bedtime devotions a normal part of your day?
- Do you like to eat well?
- What do you do on the weekends?
- Where are some regular places you go?
- How do you treat one another?
- Do you have any family sayings or mottos?
Use this Family Culture printable pack to begin thinking about what makes your family unique. It isn’t the social media worthy stuff, it’s the normal every day moments.
Strong and happy families have carefully crafted Family Cultures. They don’t let guilt drive them, rather they spend their time and energy digging deep into a few key family areas that pay off in spades.Learn More
Is faith a large part of your family culture? Does your family love to watch and play sports? Are you a brainy family who loves games and challenges? Do you play lots of board games? Do you have Taco Tuesdays or Cinnamon Roll Saturdays or Roast Sundays?
Your family culture – when purposefully and continually nurtured – becomes the protective fence around your family where everyone feels safety and belonging.
Making appropriate family rules and establishing strong boundaries is key in your family’s culture. You’ll build the values that your children take with them. After all, that’s what we aim for!
Frequently Asked Q’s About Parenting Rules
So rules actually create independence in children. How, you ask? Let me explain. When we create rules or boundaries around certain behaviors, we’re typically saying what NEEDS to happen or what needs to NOT happen.
Aside from that, there is a lot of leeway and wiggle room. I may say kids have to clean their room, but they get to decide how, when, etc.
Or I may say “we don’t yell in the house” and they get to decide if they want to whisper or talk normal or mime, etc. Rules do stop or enforce certain behaviors, but our goal isn’t to micro-manage everything, simply to guide behavior.
So, if you feel that you’re lacking rules and need to get started with some. I’d focus on one rule at a time. Think it through, decide if you really care, how it will play out, then sit the kids down and nonchalantly explain how it goes.
Give them some warning, process through all your objections to doing this (aka you are worried they’ll react strongly, etc.), start strong and don’t take their emotions as a sign it’s bad. Give them a chance to adapt to the rules.
So, there are about a bajillion rules all around. The key isn’t to figure out what types of family rules OTHERS have, but to figure out what your boundaries are. If you know what you like/don’t like, are willing to live with or not tolerate, etc. from THOSE places you make rules.
Those are the rules you’ll keep.