Children spend their early years learning rules and guidelines. Over time they learn that these limitations are followed, or there will be consequences. Rules are a model for how we stay safe and interact with others.
Rules Can Be Broken
A mark of a good problem solver is the ability to recognize when to apply rules, and when to ignore them. When you raise a child in an environment where rules are set in stone, then you raise them to focus on the rules, not the outcome. If we are honest, the outcome is the goal. It is not that the end justifies the means. However, rules are a means to an end. Rules are an attempt to provide tools for a child to reach a goal quickly and efficiently.
For example, the rules around brushing your teeth are for good dental health. These rules do not apply when you have braces or loose teeth. There are different rules to follow in those cases.
Focus on Outcomes
Rather than preach rules at your children, teach them about the goals. Include an explanation to go along with the rules as you lay them out. Do not fall back on the “because I said so” answer. Take a deep breath, be patient, and provide the background to a rule. When you start this with young children, it will make rules easier for them to accept as they get older. More importantly, they will grow up seeing rules as an expression of love and guidance rather than limitations on their “fun.”
The Tough Part
The hardest part of this approach to making rules is that you will be asked to justify some of your parenting. When you set a curfew, you will be invited to explain why that curfew is in place. In most cases, the rules we set are for the health and security of our children. These are easy rules to defend; other rules have to do with our core beliefs. Those belief-based rules offer an opportunity to have deeper conversations with your children about what you believe and why. Of course, there might be rules you cannot explain. I suggest you consider dropping these. Why add red tape to your child’s existence when you can not give a suitable reason for it?
Life is complicated. Children learn this early on and then spend the first part of their lives trying to make sense of it all. When we demonstrate that rules are guidelines and best practices for life rather than edicts from on high we simplify things. It is easier to focus on a few goals than volumes of rules for achieving those goals.