As a mom, we have two very important objectives to achieve with our children. One objective would be to provide a loving and peaceful family environment. Another would be to raise our children to be happy and productive adults. If you think about it, most moms would agree they want these things for their children.
When you think of all the factors that can prevent us from achieving these two objectives, it can seem quite overwhelming. We live in a fast paced world and finding time for everything can be a challenge. The more family members we have, the more complicated family dynamics become. And I think the most difficult factor we face is the external pressures and the outside influences of the world. It is not easy raising children in this day and age.
The good news is you can raise great kids if you are equipped with the right tools and information. The root focus of raising happy and responsible children is developing their self esteem. And to develop their self esteem, children need three things: attention, autonomy, and limits. Children need to know they are worthy of love and they need to be taken care of. They need to gradually develop so they function independently from their parents. And children need boundaries so they learn proper behavior and develop healthy self esteem.
To give children attention, you play with them on a regular basis, give them lots of hugs and kisses, and take care of their most basic needs. Children gain autonomy and limits by having structure in their lives. One very important part of your child’s structure is the family rules. The family rules teach your children proper behavior, as well as the necessary skills and character traits they need to develop healthy self esteem and independence. Not only do rules give your children a sense of security, but they also provide order and peace for your family.
Kenneth Kaye, Ph.D., in his book Family Rules, provides a six step process for setting family rules:
1.Make a list of behavior problems or important concerns you are dealing with in your family.
2.For these problems or concerns, together as parents, create and write down the rules that will enforce the behavior that you want to see. Start with just a few rules in the beginning.
3.For each rule, think of and write down a logical or natural consequence for breaking the rule.
4.Formally present the rules to your children.
5.Follow through with consequences if they test the rules.
6.Amend the rules as necessary and amend or escalate the consequences as necessary.
One of the most interesting discoveries I made in Dr. Kaye’s book was the difference between rules and preferences. Let me give you a few examples of each and then I will explain the difference. Examples of rules may be “You may not hit, kick or call your sibling names” or “You must be home at the time we set for you”. Examples of preferences are “We prefer you use your manners” and “We prefer you spend your money wisely”.
Here are the major differences between rules and preferences. Mom and Dad have to agree on the rules, but they do not have to agree on preferences. Mom may allow only one friend over at a time, but Dad may enjoy a house full of children. However, when it comes to borrowing a sibling’s belongings, if the child is required to ask first, then Mom and Dad must be prepared to enforce this rule.
Rules require consistency and must be clear and specific. Preferences can be vague and do not require consistency. If a rule is broken, a consequence is issued every time. With preferences, you prefer your child do something a certain way, but it’s left up to your child’s discretion. There is no consequence if your child does not do things the way you would prefer. When my four year old has a playmate over, I prefer he says hello and goodbye to them. I encourage him to use his manners and I explain why I think it’s important, but there is no consequence if he doesn’t. On the other hand, if he hits or pushes his playmate, there would be an automatic time out. Generally speaking, rules provide structure, peace, safety and convenience, whereas, preferences teach children moral education, social skills and positive feelings about themselves and others.
Now that you understand how best to set family rules, I would suggest you post your family rules so everyone can see them. Remember, enforcing the rules requires issuing a consequence every time the rule is broken. The best consequences are ones that restrict privileges. The more natural and logical the consequence, the better it is. If a child behaves responsibly, he is rewarded with privileges, and he loses his privileges if he breaks the rules. One thing I have found that helps take the emotion out of issuing consequences is the Better Behavior Wheel. This is a great tool for teaching kids about the consequences for their actions.
Think about your children as they set off on their own. What kind of adults do you want them to be? How are you, as a parent, going to instill the healthy self esteem that’s needed for them to be successful at life? By utilizing the principles you’ve learned in this article, you’ve got a good jump start. Give your children everything you want them to be. Teach them by example and with family rules that will reinforce lifelong character traits, healthy boundaries, and the life skills needed to thrive in this world.