Setting rules for your children is a fundamental part of discipline. Honestly, you have no right to discipline or punish a child for doing something that you never made clear was wrong. That’s just not fair.
Shotgun discipline builds resentment in your children. Establish rules. Make sure your kids know the rules, and make sure they know exactly what the consequences will be if they break the rules or resort to bad behavior.
STEP 1 – GET ON THE SAME PAGE WITH YOUR SPOUSE
The first thing to do is to make sure that you and your spouse agree on the rules and the consequences. Setting aside a time where you can discuss this is important.
Conflicting authority is the single greatest contributor to rebellion in a child.
STEP 2 – DON’T MAKE TOO MANY RULES
A parent’s natural inclination is to try to out think every possibility and create a rule for it. First off, you won’t out think your child’s ability to get into trouble. They will always do something that will end up surprising you. Also, if the list of rules is so long and so detailed, the child will not be able to process them well or remember them.
Remember, these are your kids, not your inmates. You aren’t a warden. You are a parent.
My personal advice is to make the rules fairly broad so that they can cover a multitude of situations. There is really no way to anticipate every single situation, so I designed a list of rules that covers a wide scope of circumstances. I created rules in groups of three. This was always easy to remember for my children, and they were broad enough that I didn’t have to have specific rules for each and every situation.
Here is my list of general rules when my children were little:
- Be nice
- Don’t fuss
Honestly, those three rules covered about everything I could think of. If I told my children not to horse around and they do and break a lamp, I don’t punish them for breaking the lamp. I punish them for disobeying. If they get into a fight, they get in trouble for not being nice. If they complain, whine, or throw a fit, they get in trouble for fussing.
When out and about in public, particularly in a store, I had another list of three rules:
- Don’t run
- Don’t touch
- You can ask once
My children were allowed to ask for things, but if I said no, then that was the end of it. My first set of three rules still applied in the store, but the next three were specific to the situation. I would remind them of these last three rules just before entering the store. I created several groups of rules for various situations and would just have my kids repeat the three rules back to me before engaging in the new environment.
When your children are older, you will have created a habit of obedience to your authority, and adjusting rules to their age and situation will be much easier and obvious.
STEP 3 – MAKE THE CONSEQUENCES CLEAR
Consequences should be appropriate to the crime and clearly stated ahead of time. You want to make it so that it’s not worth it to your children to break the rule, but at the same time, you don’t want to be guilty of cruel and unusual punishment.
Mean what you say and say what you mean!
Most parents make a mistake when they do the popular counting thing when a child is doing something that you don’t want them to do: “One, Two, Three…” All you’re teaching a child is that you aren’t really serious until you get to “ten.”
If you ever say, “I won’t tell you again!” or “This is the last time!” or some such variation, then all you’ve done is teach your children that you are a liar. Your word doesn’t mean much if you don’t keep it. Honestly, most parents don’t keep their word in this area because of the amount of time and energy it takes to properly discipline. Don’t fall for that trap.
In my household, my children get one chance to do as their told. Only one. If they don’t do it, they are disciplined for it. It’s amazing how often our children do as their told right away and the first time. Don’t train your child to recognize that you aren’t serious until your voice hits a certain volume. Your children won’t pay attention to you until you get loud. Mostly, that is the adult’s fault for training their children in such a way.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
- Write down all of your rules and the consequences of those rules on a piece of paper and tack it to the refrigerator or some other conspicuous place.
- Take your children on a tour of this paper. Go over each rule, each consequence, and take questions from them. End it with, “Does everyone understand? Good. Here’s the deal. When you break a rule you’re telling me that you want the consequences of breaking that rule. I’ll only give you the consequences when you tell me you want it–by breaking the rules.”
- Then, when one of your children breaks one of the rules, take him to the refrigerator and show him the list, and say, “Did you break that rule?” Wait for their response. “By breaking this rule, you told me that you want the consequence.” Do this with almost a reluctant attitude. Get them to think that the consequences are something that they imposed on themselves…not you. You want to convince them that the resulting discipline was their own fault–not yours.
- Administer the discipline in a loving manner. Some parents get very emotional and that is great. Let your children see your pain. Some parents are detached, almost clinical. That is okay too. What you do not want to do is discipline in anger. Anger will only build resentment.
- Show forgiveness, love, and grace afterward. Make it clear that now that the punishment is over, you have no ill will and everything is okay. In fact, try to make your child laugh.
it is so important that you train your children to believe what you say, the first time you say it. And don’t make wild threats. That is degrading and will bring insecurity to your children.
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