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Parenting: The One Rule Plan

I am sure you have rules you want your kids to remember AND to follow… No whining, No hitting, No leaving the table without being excused, No talking with your mouth full, and the list goes on.  I can think of at least 20 rules I have heard of and read that different families have.  But should parents rear their children using lists of family rules?  My wife and I came up with one rule and focused on one of our of family values to back it up.  

One Rule: Do what Mom and Dad tell you to do.  

That pretty much sums it up.  Thank you and good night!

What…You need a little more explanation than that?  Look here pal…Just read the rule again and make it your family’s rule.  There.  Are we done now?  Just because I am not YOUR dad, you’re not going to follow my rule?  Oops!  Wait a second…I am sorry.  I forgot to mention the family value to back it up with, which is why you would not just do my bidding blindly and devoutly.  Children, not adults, are supposed to do that.  In the words of Lord Tennyson, “Theirs not to reason why.”  Right?  Wrong!  Why is it wrong?  Well, to tell someone to blindly follow your rules lacks a practice of the family value I meant to mention earlier, mutual respect, which should be given as often as possible.

By George, this house is a veritable cesspool of talent.

You might be thinking, “That’s not how my parents did it.  We had lots of rules in my home.  And back in my day, if I screwed up, I got spanked and that helped me remember to not screw up again…or else!”  If this is what you are thinking, then you had authoritarian parents.  Authoritarian parents implement rules without any explanation and dole out plenty of punishment when the rules are broken.  This is a parenting path you could take, but consider the effects this form of parenting will have on your child. 

I don’t know…I think I want to go right?

Numerous studies have been done on the effects of parenting styles and child development.  For example, S.D. Lamborn and L.D. Steinberg did a number of studies on adolescents in the 90’s on the effects of authoritarian parenting and emotional development in children. They found that American teenagers who had authoritarian parents were least likely to feel socially accepted and felt more dependent on others.  Steinberg and others also studied the effects of authoritarian parenting on academic performance and found, at least for American kids, that these kids received lower grades than those reared with other parenting styles.  The list of facts goes on and on.  In Western culture, parents who use and authoritarian style will most likely raise children who are socially, academically, and morally less developed than children raised by parents who are assertive yet democratic, balanced and responsive, i.e. explain why they are demanding certain behavior.

What is this place? Bare foot hippies playing Frisbee, barefoot hippies singing to trees.

Although life with my wife and kids is not a Utopia of peace and harmony (weekday mornings can be rough if there is a lot going on), we have never had any extended family “wars.”  Sure, there have been small skirmishes where voices were raised beyond a reasonable level.  My wife, Lorraine, has referred to her usage of the “nursemaid’s arm” where she has forced little Alexis or Joey to quickly stop some obnoxious behavior.  Usually, these skirmishes lead to apologies from both parties involved.  Yes, you read that right…Lorraine and I have both apologized to the kids for reacting to their behavior with a lack of respect for them.  Do I want my kids to learn that yelling is a good way to handle a problem?  No.  Unless they become police officers dealing with armed criminals, yelling is usually not a good way to deal with others.  Instead, we try to encourage the behavior we want with praise…it could be just a smile, a pat on the back, or a heartfelt “Good job!”  If whatever they did right is a big deal, for example say they stayed in bed all night for the first time without climbing into yours at 2AM, then try doing something special like cooking their favorite food for some meal or even buying (Gasp!) yes, buying them something special.  

As is the case with most things we do, moderation is key to success and the reward should fit the behavior.  Going to the potty on their own the first few times…, a big deal (if your a parent of a little baby, you will understand this in a few years).  But after the 10th time in a few days…not so much of a celebration is needed, maybe just a “Good job!” will suffice. 

Obviously, when they are doing something dangerous, intervening with what may appear to lack mutual respect is the right thing to do.  If your child decides sword fighting with a real knife would be fun, then yelling and grabbing is in order.  But isn’t this actually showing them respect?  I think so.  You respect their safety…Job One!  You still could apologize for scaring them or hurting them, but they need to know you did this so they would not hurt themselves.  Even toddlers understand this.

Of course, every rule has an exception.  As your children begin to think for themselves, they will realize there are times when Mom and Dad are wrong.  Since none of us are perfect, this will happen and this is the exception to the rule.  My parents like to tell this restaurant story when I was 5 years old.  They had ordered a meal for me the only part of which is remembered is the vegetable, corn.  I liked corn, but for reasons unknown to my parents I was not eating the corn on my plate.  My father took a firm stance and told me I was to eat the corn or suffer some violent fate (always an empty threat with Dad, but the threat accompanied plenty of anger which I did not want).  So, I took a mouthful…and promptly spit it out on the plate.  Both my parents were furious.  But, my mother, probably wondering why I do such a thing took a taste of the uneaten corn…and she spit it out too!  I had been served spoiled corn…yuck!  So, I had a good reason to break that rule.

When corn goes bad.                     

There is another exception… As children begin to think for themselves and learn independence, questioning authority is a good skill for them to develop.  Having autocratic rule over your children and not allowing any question of your authority leads to bad things (Ask the people of Libya, they know).  Sometimes you will know you are right and your child’s argument is invalid, but you need to ask yourself if this is a good learning opportunity.  We learn more from our failures than from our successes. 

I agree that every household benefits from order and predictability.  And I cannot argue against the fact that rules supply these.  But, there is beauty in simplicity.  Parenting abundant in values and simple in rules will be rich in joy and happiness. 

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