Written by Doctor G

Kids Don’t Want Rules

Doc G – If my kids want limits & rules & boundaries, how come when i impose them they hope i die? Youngest son (10) can be very defiant in the face of rules. Hard to know what to do. Thank you!

Eric, on Twitter

Some kids really chafe at being told what to do! Want them to touch something? Put a fence around it and a sign that says “Keep out!” This doesn’t seem limited to kids, either. I’ll bet you know adults like this. I sure do.

You’re right that most child behavior experts recommend giving kids limits and rules and boundaries. You’re right that very few kids would ever say they want these controls imposed upon them. You’re right that it is hard to know what to do when a child challenges every rule placed on him.

Do kids want rules and limits? No, of course not! Do kids need rules and limits? Absolutely.

Every parent wants to build a foundation of respect and trust with their child.

Rules are the daily opportunity parents have to earn our children’s respect and trust. When we give kids boundaries, we give them stability and predictability. When we enforce rules we are saying, “You can count on us.”

Following rules takes practice. This is a skill your son will need in school, sports, to go to a university, keep a job, be married. He needs the lots of practice.

Eric, it sounds like your ten year old feels really oppressed when given limits. You can respect his natural blueprint, and help him approach rules in ways that don’t frustrate him quite as much. The answer, in a word, is autonomy. Choices, within limits.

Here are a few examples:

• Bedtime: He can decide either to start his bedtime earlier but be in charge of the pacing of his routine, or he can choose to go upstairs later but get everything done in 15 minutes

• Screen time: give him parameters for how much overall time he can spend, but let him decide how he “spends” these 60 minutes, within your family limits. If he wants more freedom, he needs to build your respect and trust by living within the limits in order to earn more privileges.

• Playing outside: He can go further away from your supervision for shorter periods of time, or he can choose a longer playtime closer to your line of sight.

Every time your son asks for a new privilege, ask him what the rules should be if he’s allowed to try it. Encourage him to come up with respectful, trust-building guidelines and (when he does) praise the heck out of him! He may surprise you with great rules when he gets to collaborate.

Every time you can, have your son give you suggestions about what will happen if he breaks a rule. Do this when you’re laying out the rules themselves. Also, ask him for suggestions about what privileges he can earn by consistently following your limits.

The world has lots of rules. Your son has a strong will. In this way, you can teach him to manage other peoples’ expectations, while still respecting who he is.

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2 thoughts on “Kids Don’t Want Rules”

  1. Little kids and big kids all need boundary’s. At the same time we have to be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. While we say we don’t like rules we know they are good for us. 😉

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