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!”
I Had an Internal Debate
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.
Read: 5 Parenting Skills That Help Raise Stable, Well-Adjusted Kids
Rules Are Boundaries and Boundaries Are Walls
My parenting coach gave an interesting illustration in her book that helped me understand this principle about boundaries. 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 timt 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:
- 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.
Read: The Surprising Reason Kids Are Insecure
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:L
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.
Read: Family Values – How To Live Out What Matters Most
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.
Not to mention, you are validating their good choice making skills.
Read: The Real Reason Your Kid Is Defiant
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!
Good article. With 4 young ones I struggle with this frequently. Thanks for sharing the concept of walls vs. doors. :)
Poovanesh Pather|FamilyGrowthLife.com says
I agree. Too many rules make you a glorified policeman. One way around this is to have a family meeting – assuming that the kids are old enough – and decide on family rules to follow. The kids will feel empowered that they had a say in the rules that even mom and dad have to follow.
Rachel Norman says
Love these ideas :)
These are some great points that I’ve sort of recognised in my own parenting. There are some that I need to let go of and others that I need to firm up, to really distinguish between the two. Thanks for sharing.
Rachel! Your blog has been tremendously helpful in recent months. I do have a question about this particular subject, maybe you have some insight or another post you could refer me to?
What about when your child constantly (I mean constantly) is in disagreement. Like always has a “but what if,” lined up for when you say “no”? (He’s just over 3.5.)
I’ve just read your 4 things to do when a child is disobeident…but wasn’t sure if you had another resource too. Thanks!
Seriously… I needed this today! Thank you! With all my heart: thank you. I have been feeling overwhelmed with keeping order and making sure everyone obeys the rules. I realized there are only five big ones… and IF those are abided by… Ill be totally okay… and so will everyone else!
What are your family files specifically?
Just like you said, too many is too many so I’m curious what youve narrowed it down to in trying to develop my own.
I’ve found a helpful line for those things I’m not sure should be a rule (because I don’t know how the kids will tweak it or something like that)…
ex: [child is throwing a ball in the house – which IS against the rule]
Me: “You’re throwing a ball in the house…”
Child: “can we just roll it?”
Me: [considering… “they might start hurling it like a bowling ball and actually break something, and they might not…] “We can try that.”
I feel like it helps them stay mindful of their actions and actually want to do good so they can keep doing what they’ve asked! :)
Rachel Norman says
Nina Paul says
Nice article as this very thoroughly explains the difference between a wall and a door how to stand on your ground when you’re forced with these question whom one should listen to children or to yourself.