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 | You catch more with honey than with vinegar
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.