How To Use Rules Most Effectively
Good rules show children what family and societal values look like, how to put them into practice, and why they are relevant. We need rules to draw lines in life so people know what’s expected and how to operate. The lifeguard posts a list of rules to define how to play safely at the neighborhood pool. A teacher discusses rules about how to act respectfully in the classroom. Even children in the neighborhood establish rules for their club by which members must abide.
Every family needs rules. Of course, an overemphasis on rules can hinder or even eliminate a positive atmosphere around the home. But too many families have moved to the other extreme, trying to eliminate rules altogether. This often results in confused expectations, anger, and disappointment. Rules are values put into action. They’re the practical application of what we believe.
Sometimes rules are clearly defined, even posted on the refrigerator or in a hallway. Other times they’re not as visible but just as important. For example, Ian knows better than to ask Dad if he can watch the movie The Return of the Ax Murderer. He knows that Dad will say no because it’s rated R. However, Ian may focus on the rule without understanding Dad’s convictions. That’s why it’s important for Dad to communicate and discuss the values on which the rule has been established.
Rules Can Communicate Convictions
The rule involving Ian and R-rated movies is supported by a number of values. Dad, who knows that violence and gore aren’t appropriate for Ian to watch, has already talked with Ian about why his son isn’t allowed to watch R-rated movies. That talk was filled with reasons, and most of those reasons were tied to values. The resulting rule summarized the conclusion.
The connection between rules and values is so important that it would be good for you to regularly ensure that your rules are based on the values you want to teach. Examine if your values are defined clearly through rules and then frequently communicate the connection between rules and values.
Your values and convictions represent your heart. You are a child of God, and he wants to build within you a heart that’s like his. Part of your job as a parent is to transfer your heart including biblical values—to your kids. You take your kids to church, make sure they complete their homework, and may enroll them in music lessons or sports. Why? Because you know those things will impact who they are and who they will become. One of the best ways to connect with children on a deeper level is to teach them values through the rules of everyday life.
Develop and Use Rules Appropriately
Rules, a means by which we teach values and principles, are sometimes overemphasized or misused. For example, some parents focus so much on enforcing manners at the dinner table that they lose the relational benefits of mealtime. (It’s been said that more meals are ruined at the table than at the stove.) A careful balance is important. As you develop rules in family life, be careful to use them as opportunities to teach, not opportunities to lecture or criticize. Sometimes parents enforce rules without knowing why such rules exist. Perhaps the rules, were in place when they were kids but now don’t apply.
One mom said, “We had a rule at dinner that everyone had to eat all the food on their plates before dessert. My daughter is a little on the chubby side, and I realized that my rule was contributing to her weight increase.” After evaluating the rule, this mom realized that it actually went against her values, so she changed it.
What rules do you have in your, family? What do they teach? Why do you teach your children not to interrupt someone who is talking? Why is it important to ask permission before borrowing someone else’s toy? Why should children put away toys after they’ve finished playing with them?
Behind each one of these rules is a value children can embrace. Take time to talk with them about these values. Discussions can make rules more meaningful, especially for older children and teens.
If rules are separated from underlying values and principles, children may view the rules as prison bars to be tossed aside at the first opportunity. When this happens and rules are abandoned, children may completely miss the underlying values. So, when establishing and enforcing rules in your family, talk about the values they represent.
This tip comes from the book Home Improvement: The Parenting Book You Can Read To Your Kids by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN. It’s now available as an audio book as well as an ebook and paperback. Click here to learn more.