Saturday, September 26, 2009

Rules and Limits

Parental rules and limits are made to be broken! Well, whether you agree with that thesis or not, your kids WILL attempt to break, tweak, or otherwise circumvent the limits and rules that you have established for them.

When a child willfully breaks a rule and gets caught, he/she will often attempt to place the onus of guilt on … YOU, as in “YOUR rules are too strict”; “YOU are ruining their lives”; “YOU just don’t understand kids today”; “WHY can’t YOU be cool like the other kids’ parents”? OUCH!!

It is often at those times in which self-guilt and questioning begins to enter the scenario. You might often ask yourself, “Am I too strict?”, “Am I hindering my child’s development?”, or “Is my child right – I’m just not in step with the other parents”? The answers are NO, NO and NO!

At some point in the past, during moments of calmness and devoid of emotional outbursts, the rules were established with love and care to protect your children. As long as you stick to your long-term plan toward helping your child grow into a responsible and successful adult, you will be just fine.

However, when parents change their rules and limits on the fly, while being led toward guilt their by children, the result is that usually the parents end up regretting the changing of their established rules/limits.

Of course, if a parent wishes to revisit his/her rules/limits during future moments of calmness, then go for it, as long as the parent is far removed from the emotions of the moment.

When my daughter was 12-years-old, she asked to go to a school dance. Long ago, it had been established that she would not be able to attend any school dances until the age of 13. Despite her pleadings and the usual attempts to guilt us into changing the rules/limits on the fly, we stuck to our guns and told her that the age for attending school dances is still 13 and to try again next year.

Of course, this brought forth some more pleadings and guilt attempts, but they were for naught, as the established limits/rules were not going to change. I am sure that her friends heard the horror stories about the terrible parents that my daughter had been given (of course, what she does not know, is that several parents called to thank me for the rule, as it allowed them to enforce the rule in their own homes!).

A year later, when she turned 13, she asked to go to her first school dance. She told me that the time of the dance was from 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. I didn’t like the idea of my 13-year-old daughter carousing until 10:00 p.m. on a Friday night, so I told her that she could stay until 9:00 p.m. She begged and pleaded to stay until 10:00 p.m. A long discussion ensued and, since 9:00 p.m. was not an established rule, I cut a deal: I would arrive by 9:00 p.m. She would need to come to the car no later than 9:00 p.m. I would then make a judgment about the final hour at that time.

Well, 9:00 p.m. came and went and no daughter. 9:05 p.m. came and went and no daughter. Finally, at about 9:10 p.m., my daughter made her grand appearance at the car!

I told my daughter to get in the car, as we would be going home. She began to cry, asked for mercy, and begged to stay until 10:00 p.m. I reminded her that she had failed to arrive by 9:00p.m. Since she did not follow the established rules/limits, the party was over for the evening.

Here was the crucial moment: Had I allowed her to stay at the dance after breaking a minor rule, I would have been inviting her to break more rules in the future, perhaps bigger and bigger rules, until her life could have spun out of control. I have seen this happen countless times throughout my career.

Although I felt bad that she had to leave the dance (I really did!!), I had to stick with the rules/limits, so that she would understand that rules/limits are to be taken seriously at all times.

So, despite my own self-imposed guilty feelings, as well as the guilty feelings that were imposed on me by my daughter, we headed home for the evening, armed with the knowledge that my daughter was safe and that she had (hopefully) learned a valuable lesson.

Was she ever late again for anything when a time limit was given? NO! Has she understood that established rules/limits have purpose and meaning? YES! Has she grown up to be a successful young lady with life, career, education plans and a strong work ethic? YES!

How about you? While I know that it is difficult to stick with established rules/limits in times of emotional outbursts, tell me about a time that you stuck to your guns!

As always, remember to take care of your kids 24/7, establish the rules/limits that will keep them safe, and stay with the rules/limits when under fire from your own kids (believe me – those times will come)!!

Paul W. Reeves

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