1. Rules turn chaos into structure
2. Rules avoid conflict
3. Rules provide security and protect from negative consequences
4. Rules curtail dishonesty and physical violence
In the same way the Christian parent understands her or his relationship with their child to be. As parents we can see consequences to our children's actions that they do not even know exist. We know that if junior sticks his hand on the hot stove, he will most likely get burned. So we make the rule that junior is not to touch the stove. We also know that if our golden haired little angel pulls the cat's tail, she will most likely end up getting scratched. Thus, we implement the rule that only gentle touches are allowed when it comes to interacting with Fluffy and that tail pulling is not permitted.
In these cases the rules that are set forth protect the child and allow her or him the freedom to live fully. Sure, a toddler might feel restricted by not being allowed to touch the hot stove, but if he were able to understand that wearing a restrictive bandage on his hand for a week - as the treatment for serious burn may indicate - will severely limit his freedom to play at the playground, dig in the sand, go swimming in the backyard pool, explore his new little toy cars, or simply clap his hand in tune with his favorite songs, he might agree that following the rule of not touching that stove is actually designed to allow him more freedoms.
Yet sometimes a family seems to get bogged down by rules rather than freed by them. This is done when rules are created ineffectively. Learn how to set positive and freeing rules for your child by following these simple steps:
1. Some rules need to be created by the parent, such as "do not touch the hot stove". Yet as children get older, they need to be able to help in the creation of household rules. Children as young as four or five are able to give input on new rules and also on consequences - both positive and negative - that should follow the obedience to or breaking of a rule. This involvement brings the freedom of choice.
2. Charts are a good way of tracking success, but do you allow your child to experience failure as well? Living in a day and age where self esteem is the new altar at which parents profusely present their offerings of medals, ribbons, and certificates of achievement, too many children are not accustomed to feel the sting of failure. When you consider the great examples of the Bible, it was out of failure that learning and greatness ensued! Jonah, Solomon and Peter are great examples of individuals who failed but learned from their mistakes and rose up to the challenge and to greatness! Obviously, you do not want to set up your child for failure, but do not bend the rules to the breaking point so your child can earn a sticker on her chart. Permission to experience failure brings the freedom of experiencing growth.
3. The common fallacy of rule setting for children entails the notion that the older they get the less rules they need. If you think about it, the only rule a toddler needs to know is "obey the first time, right away." As the child enters school age, the rules become more plentiful and include conduct at school, conduct with friends, work ethic as it pertains to homework, and so forth. Yet as the number of rules increase, the positive consequences abound! A child that learns not to hit, kick, or bite others will have friends to play with! A child who does his homework will receive good grades and respect from teachers! Thus, failure to adjust the rules in your home as your child matures leads to her experiencing a sense of floundering and insecurity while an increase in rules leads to an abundance of positive consequences.
4. Avoid setting so many rules that every aspect of your child's daily life is governed by them. This will make your home a haven for legalism. If you find yourself arguing rule interpretation with your child, the odds are that you either have a budding lawyer in your family or you have too many rules. Permit some leeway for your child to make his own choices, and allow your child to experience the consequences in the safety of your family. For example, allow your second grader to decide when and how to study for her upcoming spelling test. If she buckles down and studies, she will experience the freedom of making a good choice and earning the privilege of more independence when it comes to school matters. On the other hand, if she chooses to blow off the studying and predictably will bring home a bad grade, she will experience the freedom of making a bad choice and understanding that negative consequences are not an idle threat but a real world reality. Do not take away this latter freedom, but at the same time do not give a child who struggles with independent studying too many opportunities to experience it to the extent that her overall grades seriously suffer. This is the definition of the safety previously mentioned - you child will have the freedom to experience failure in a controlled environment where you, the Christian parent, can ensure that the severity, duration, and reach of the consequences will not be too harsh. The sting of one or two bad grades and the shame of having to fess up that your trust was not appreciated is acceptable when teaching an overall life lesson.
5. The more general the rule is worded, the more freedom of choice the child will have. For example, a good rule should be "when adults are speaking, please do not interrupt unless there is an emergency." By wording the rule in this manner, you child will learn to apply it to your speaking on the phone, talking to the clerk at the post office, or chatting with your neighbor over the fence. Conversely, if you only focus on telephone manners, then you will need separate rules for the store, the mail carrier, and so on. The same is true for rules that pertain to behavior such as the famous "no kicking, biting, hitting" rules. A general rule that says "treat other children the way you want to be treated" or for a child who needs more guidance the quintessential "keep your hands, feet, and other body parts to yourself" will help the child to include all the other aspects of behavior in that general rule. Otherwise, you will need a rule for everything from hair pulling to kicking, biting, spitting, pushing, shoving, hitting, and so forth. General rules give the freedom to recognize patterns and make good choices.
6. Choose wisely how to word a rule. "Don't touch the stove!" is a good rule for a 2-year old, but as the child matures the rule should be altered to read "practice safety in and around appliances." Similarly, a rule that simply says "don't tease, upset, mess with, or hurt the dog" might get the point across but it is negative and thus will not encourage your child to do anything, but only order her not to do something. Instead, make the rule positive by rephrasing it "be kind and gentle with Fluffy and make him feel loved." This positively worded rule enables the child to experience the freedom to act, make good choices, and look for ways of doing the right thing in a myriad of situations.
7. Rules are in place for everyone. If you have a household rule that saying "always tell the truth" or "show integrity in all your dealings" then you, as the Christian parent, are also expected to follow it. Thus, asking your spouse to lie on the phone and say you're not home, or remaining silent when the sales clerk gives back too much change is inappropriate and will backfire. Consider your children as being little hypocrisy detectors. On the other hand, if your child sees you telling the truth - even if it may lead to your having to pay more for an item - she will see that integrity is a lifestyle. Leading by example and allowing the rules to apply to you as well will give your child the freedom to do the right thing, even when nobody is looking, or when it goes against worldly wisdom.
While all of this may be a bit overwhelming, here are some sample rules for your household. As a Christian parent, feel free to add, subtract or reword the rules to fit your need.
Show integrity in everything you do and say. (Integrity means doing the right thing even when only God can see or hear you)
Play with other children the way you want them to play with you.
Be kind and gentle to Fluffy and make our pet feel loved and cherished.
Appreciate God's material blessings by keeping our home neat, your room clean, and your toys and books in good condition.
Obey mom and dad the first time, right away!
Complete your chores and homework on time. (At this point you might want to add a short schedule that shows by when a certain chore should be completed, or by when you want homework to be begun.)
About Sylvia Cochran
Sylvia Cochran - Christian Parenting Corner and Common Sense Parenting and Parenting By the Book Christian Parenting Book Reviews
Sylvia is a seasoned freelance writer, born and raised in Germany. Having been exposed to a variety of religions and traditions due to travel and study, Sylvia has been a student of the Bible for more than ten years, and has for the last four years taught in small groups about Biblical principles, practical Christianity, Christian parenting, as well as the spiritual use of money. Sylvia also provides Free Online Christian Parenting Courses at Suite 101.
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