Rules are Meant to Be Broken

boys playing soccer

boys playing soccer

In play, there are rules.In families, there are rules.But how did they get made?What if it’s time to break some of them?Now that it’s summer, take time to do just that!Now that it’s summer, maybe you have memories of running freely and creating your own rules around kickball, hide and seek – vigorously arguing, evolving and changing the rules, getting mad, making up, continuing to play, and making up more rules on the fly.If you didn’t have that kind of childhood, you can enjoy one vicariously here.

Lessons Learned

What valuable lessons you were learning! Negotiation, anger management, giving in, and getting creative.As we grow up, we get rule-bound.As our families grow, we stay rule-bound.We don’t even know when the rule started or why but we insist on keeping it – just because.Summer is a great time to assess your family rules - what’s working and what isn’t.Your kids have more capabilities and have assumed more responsibilities than the last time you may have done a “rule makeover.”

Rules are meant to work and if they don’t - break them and make some new ones!

Thinking about Rules:How many rules do you have in your family? Three non-negotiables is a good place to start.Too many rules means they’ll be difficult and confusing to enforce (which stresses you out).Your kids will find every loophole in your rules and they’ll negotiate and nag their way through every one of them (which stresses you out).

What are your rules based on?

Safety Everyone deserves to feel safe and be safe. Many of our rules are build up around telling children what not to do: “Don’t touch,” “Don’t run,” “Don’t spill.”Children need to have real data – information they can use to react and behave well the next time. Tell them what you DO want them to do: “Keep your hands close to your body.” “Walk beside me in the parking lot.” “Keep your milk in the glass.”Morals and ValuesSome rules may be based on morals and what you value as a family:

  • We go to church on Sunday.

  • We volunteer.

  • We recycle.

Check in to see if morality-based rules still apply to your family.BeliefsOther rules may be based on what you believe:

  • We believe that all people are equal and treat them that way.

  • We believe hard work is the key ingredient to success.

  • We believe it is important to take one day to play each week.

Rules based on your beliefs and your morals and values can get a little sticky as you merge families together. Are you implementing rules just because you were “raised that way”? Do they make sense for your family now?Arbitrary RulesThese are the rules that creep up on you!Are they rules you want to keep?

  • Do it, because I said so.

  • Clean your plate at every meal.

  • Clean up your room.

Food for thought from a mom who has raised her kids

pile of laundry

pile of laundry

Clean up your room!”As a young mom, I decided that I didn’t want to fight the “clean up your room” battle with my kids. Yep, I was scarred as a kid on this one. So I chose a different rule than my parents had.My oldest loved clothes, her dresser was like Pandora’s box – so many outfits, so little time! She’d try two or three things on and the rejected clothes went on the floor.My rule for their room: have a clear path from door to bed if you want me tuck you in. (Mostly they did.)Fast forward to now – my daughter is 30. I chuckle when I visit her and see that she still tries on multiple outfits, the rejects still go on the floor. Her room is still a “mess” (according to me).Looking back, though, I’m so glad I didn’t make a rule that couldn’t be broken – our relationship would have suffered over too many arguments about the state of her room.

Let Them Argue about Rules

Kids need the chance to navigate and negotiate rules. It’s a great opportunity for them to take a stand, state what they believe in, and negotiate for the common good. It’s a never-ending process. If you mostly stay out of it, they’ll figure it out over time.Rules are meant to be broken, reconfigured, tested, broken, and reconfigured again.

How to Create Rules

This advice comes to you from Boys Alive! Bring Out Their Best! by yours truly.

  1. State the problem clearly from a neutral observer’s point of view.

  2. Ask him to help find solutions. Boys are creative and innovative and he is likely to come up with something you’d never have thought of!

  3. Implement the new rule for a given time, then revisit to see if it is effective.

For example, you observe: “Your clothes are on the floor instead of in the hamper. What can be done about that?” You give him the opening to find a solution. You set a timeframe for implementation and follow-up. “So, you’ll pick them up every morning this week and we’ll check in on Saturday to see how it worked.”

Boys need and want rules.

He wants to know:

  • Who is in charge?

  • What are the rules?

  • Will the rules be fairly enforced?

Rules give him a structure he can count on. Rules do not require you to include incentives, bribery, or rewards. Watch your step here!

Rules require you to: Make them. Break them. And start all over again.

Have fun doing it!

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