Parenting In Focus: Setting rules for children can be tricky

It sounds simple: Set rules and you can expect certain behavior from your children.

However, that does not seem to be the case. Setting rules is more complicated than that. There are even some rules to setting rules.

Do not set more rules than you can enforce; if you have rules about everything, your little one can become confused. Keep these rules to a minimum.

Make sure that whatever rules you establish are very clear. For example, if you say, “Don’t watch too much television,” your child may become confused. Instead, tell her she may watch one show or one hour of television each day.

Rules need to be set by both mothers and by fathers. Make sure you talk together as rules are set. You don’t want one parent setting up rules the other parent doesn’t know about.

This can be difficult when parents disagree. These kinds of disagreements need to be settled before parents set household rules.

Follow through to make sure that your rules are obeyed. If you say that your child may watch one TV show, don’t let her stay up to watch a second one. If you tell her that bedtime is 8 p.m., stop what you are doing and make sure that she is in bed by then.

Invest in boundaries

The funny thing about rules is that you need to really invest in them in order to make them work. They take time and commitment from you, the parent. A good job setting rules with your children will help you raise responsible adults.

Your day with your child can be very full, and you also want it to be as positive as possible. Even as you set up rules, try to say “yes” whenever you can and as frequently as possible.

You will always have to say “no” at times but don’t say it just because you are tired, rushed or in a bad mood. If you are any of those things, tell her it isn’t a good time to ask, and she should ask again later. Let her know that she has a right to ask and a right to want, even though she is not going to always get what she wants.

Remember what your child is capable of accomplishing at a given age. Don’t expect behavior to happen for her that is beyond her capability.

Key rules

Some rules are well worth considering. Think through what you really want your child to learn. Some rules are ones you need to work with your child for an extended time to help him or her really learn … rules such as the ones listed below:

• Tell the truth

• Say “please” and “thank you” and “I am sorry”

• Buckle up your seat belt

• No hitting

• Wash your hands before meals

• Help each other

• Be kind

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which published newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents.