Every family needs some structure. Set limits that work for you. The first step in setting down realistic rules in your family is to understand your child’s ages and stages of development.

These are very important for two reasons: first, a child is much less likely to break rules that take into account his needs and learning abilities; and second, knowing that your expectations are reasonable gives you the confidence to discipline your child when he does overstep the mark.

When rules work

Children who are too young to understand the concept of rules really don’t benefit from them. Before your child is 2 years old, it’s much easier to simply redirect his undesirable behaviour rather than to try to stop it with a set of rigid rules. For example, if your child has a tendency to scribble on the walls, tell him that this is wrong and give him some large sheets of paper instead.

You will find that being positive rather than negative usually results in a better chance of cooperation. Children find it easier to recall and obey rules when you tell them what you want instead of what you don’t want. Saying „Stay in bed” is better than „Don’t get up now.”

Putting rules into play

The language of rules must be very clear and firm because your success with rule-making very much depends on the way you phrase any request. For example, you can’t make fuzzy statements like ‘You can splash your sister at bathtime, but just a little bit’. Imagine what’s going to happen next! Often, parents undermine the strength of a statement by presenting it as a question. “Keep your shoes on, okay?” won’t work because your statement sounds ambivalent and will be interpreted by your child as if the final decision is his.

Strict or permissive?

The most extreme approach in disciplining children doesn’t work because it doesn’t promote self-discipline. A heavy-handed, authoritarian approach will just fuel resentment and can make your child rebellious.

Over-permissiveness, on the other hand, leaves children feeling neglected. Today, most parents want to strike a balance, but the question is how?

A lot of new parents face a real dilemma. Intuitively they know they should be setting limits, but they’re so aware of the need to see things from their child’s perspective that they are afraid to make demands on their children and set rules. Many of them end up negating their own needs in order to meet the needs of their children.

© Louise Jakob 1999.
Louise Jakob is a freelance writer and web publisher based in Switzerland. She is the editor of European Woman, http://www.europeanwoman.net, a webzine, community and web guide for women in Europe and everywhere.

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