Rules Enforcement at Home – The United Parental Front

Though Children may gripe and complain and get upset when you become the enforcer, they realize deep down that this shows you love them enough to care about their behavior. Believe it or not, you and your mate are their role models, not the latest music or movie star. The rules of conduct you set and enforce, if reasonable, make your child feel loved, safe, and secure.

It’s never easy developing and introducing rules. Many busy parents avoid setting rules because they already have enough stress at work and they just cannot handle more at home. Confrontation and unpleasantness bring additional stress which can make for screaming matches, not only between parent and child but also between parents who are not in agreement about child discipline.

Take heart. The uncomfortable stuff isn’t necessarily a reflection on your relationship with your child, it’s just the nature of adolescence — breaking rules and pushing limits is a part of growing up. Make no mistake, you cannot be your child’s best friend because, when you are laying down the law, it’s an impossible position to be in. Friends don’t ordinarily discipline friends, do they? No, your primary role is to protect, nurture and provide for your children and this includes you and your mate standing tough together.

Children will try to divide and conquer to avoid punishment. They will try to manipulate one parent against another, even resorting to lies and exaggeration. You and your mate need to agree in front of your children even if you disagree in private. Your children cannot know where you are vulnerable. They will play to your weakness.

When your kids break the rules, be careful to not overreact with harsh, disproportionate and unenforceable punishment, which undermines the effectiveness of setting rules. Instead, when you first tell your child about a new rule, discuss the consequences of breaking that rule — what the punishment will be and how it will be carried out.

Consequences must go hand in hand with limits so that your child knows what the cost of breaking the rules will be. The punishment you set should be reasonable and equal to the violation. For example, if you catch your son and his friends smoking, you might “ground” him by restricting his social activities for two weeks. It’s also extremely important that you consistently enforce the rules you have laid down. You cannot allow any infraction to pass unpunished.

When we have our grand kids for the day, they know our rules and the result of breaking them. They know that “good girls get to do fun things and bad girls go right home to their parents.”

Once, they were arguing in the back seat as we were headed to the Zoo for the day. I simply said – “Girls, apologize to each other or I’m taking you right home.” They refused and I turned the car around and headed for their home. They whined, crossed arms in protest, yet, another mile down the road they apologized to each other. They knew that grandpa and grandma were not going to tolerate bad behavior. I turned the car around and we had a great time for the rest of the day at the Zoo. It does work.

My wife thought I was being a bit too tough but she supported me 100% and we got the expected good results. We had two happy and well-behaved girls for the rest of the day.

I could have still taken them home. They broke a rule. But, rewards for good behavior must also be a part of your rules. When they are good, give them something good. Don’t have the attitude that good behavior is something that is expected and does not deserve some kind of tangible benefit. That is unreasonable. The girls learned that by quickly apologizing they were rewarded.

Punishments should only involve penalties you discussed with your children in advance. Never make empty threats. Always carry out the punishment that fits the infraction.

It’s understandable that you’ll be angry when house rules are broken, and sharing your feelings of anger, disappointment, or sadness can have a powerfully motivating effect on your child. Anger, however, is a negative motivation and is not good parenting.

Since we’re all more inclined to say things we don’t mean when we’re upset, it’s sometimes best to give ourselves a time-out period to cool off before we say something we don’t mean. Children are quick to adopt our behavior so hold your temper. Have a firm, calm, demeanor as you enforce the rules. Above all, keep to the rules-punishment-reward equation. Never allow them to escape whatever punishment that fits the infraction and reward them when they do something right that they used to do wrong.

To make the ground rules crystal clear to your child, discuss them in some detail as if you were talking to another adult. Kids aren’t stupid. They have a greater level of understanding than you might believe.

While it’s imperative that you are consistent and follow through with a defined disciplinary action after each infraction, it’s equally important that your child thoroughly understands the reasons why. This understanding comes from taking the time to explain everything in detail. Saying – “Because I said so!” just doesn’t cut it. Your kids need more from you than that. That’s simply lazy parenting. They need more from you than dictatorial statements.

If you and your mate are not presenting a United Parental Front, I guarantee your children will become more and more uncontrollable. The earlier you can nip bad behavior in the bud, the better for every member of the family unit, especially, you!

Yours for success.
Jim DeSantis