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Advice about Discipline

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Discipline: how do you decide where to set the limits?

June 2007

I feel I struggle with where to set limits every day. Do others feel this? I mean very generally, of course, safety is always the priority, but there are so many shades of grey. How do others sort this out? For example, yes, the kids probably shouldn't run in the house, but the backyard is less safe than the house and can I really say, ''only run when we're at the park?'' I think my boys need more options than that. So the unspoken rule is that they can run in the house, but I try tomake sure everything is off the ground, that they're not too tired, they're not running with objects in their hands, etc. I know the day will come when someone gets hurt running in the house and I will feel bad about not enforcing a ''no running in the house'' rule. I could go on and on with similar but different examples, but hopefully you get the gist. How do you navigate the shades of grey in limit setting? anon


I think it's a good idea to only make rules that you are willing to enforce every time. It's better to have a few ''hard'' rules that you will enforce every single time than to have a whole bunch of soft ones that sometimes apply and sometimes don't. It's too confusing for kids if they are sometimes allowed to and sometimes aren't.

So, what should the rules be? You are the mom so you get to decide what the rules are. Don't worry too much about what other moms do. Every parent I know has a different set of rules for their house than what we have at our house. It sounds like you really don't mind if the kids run in the house, so you don't need to make a rule against running. Maybe the rule is they can't run with anything in their hands. Or they can't run when they have food in their mouths. But these could be rules that you add later after something bad happens. For now you could just scratch the running rule and focus on other rules that are more important to you. Really think about it before you make a new rule though. Is this something you can and are willing to enforce every time?

My basic philosophy about rules is:

1. I don't want them to hurt themselves too badly (a skinned knee is OK but a Transformer through the eyeball is not)

2. I don't want them to hurt other people (that includes hitting or teasing another kid, bothering adult friends and neighbors, and pestering pets and family members)

3. I don't want any of *my* stuff trashed (they are not allowed to swing lacrosse rackets in the house which might (and did) break my antique sconce, or use my kitchen gadgets for outdoor water play.)

I think I have more rules than other moms because of my strong attachment to my stuff, and my desire not to be pestered. On the other hand, I like to give my kids a lot of independence so I've let them try new things at an earlier age than some of their friends whose parents thought it too risky. So, you should decide what's important to you, and make your rules accordingly.

By the way I am not an advocate of 100% consistency - I think it's good to sometimes relax the rules for special occasions. But you have to at least be 85% consistent or they won't take the rules seriously. Good luck! They call me a strict mom


You're overthinking it. For your example, running in the house is fine. Running with scissors is not. Your kids cannot live in a bubble and they ARE going to get hurt. That doesn't mean you have poor boundaries or should feel guilty; it means they are kids being kids. Just allow this and know there will be bumps and scrapes along the way. Mitigate this by reminding them to be careful around the pointy coffee table edges, etc.

I'm not advocating no rules. Be a stickler with the big things, and let the littler things go or your kids will always feel pent up. Just go with your gut feeling, and know that you may change your mind along the way. It's okay to change your mind when you get more information or just have a different feeling. There is no such thing as perfect parenting


One great piece of advice I got about setting limits is this - please do this step before reading the next part of the advice. Write down three things you wish for your children as adults: these things could be about career, friends and family, or just straight ''responsible.''

Now, if your ''rule'' or restriction has something to do with what you wrote, enforce it every time. If it has nothing to do with what you wrote, hold your tongue. If you said you want your child to be responsible, then let them run in the house telling them they will be responsible for cleaning up or replacing anything that gets broken. If something gets broken, or spilled, have your child clean it up, figure out how to replace it or work with them to solve the problem.

I don't know about your kids, but my daughter does not get to play outside as much as I did as a kid. About 1/3 of her time is spent indoors. This means that often the rules are more relaxed. One of my wishes for her is to know her own boundaries and to respect them and to respect the boundaries of others. With that in mind, she has lots of freedom. If she sees me reading in the living room in the evening, she knows that she can also be using the living room. However, if she wants to turn up the music and dance, she must ask how that will affect me when I am reading. Likewise, if she were in the living room dancing with the music loud, It would not be respectful of me to come in and demand that the music be turned down so I could sit there and read. We could talk, negotiate, or compromise. But we would need to respect each other's boundaries. That's what I hope for her when she grows up.

I would not set a rule such as ''No music and dancing in the living room. You may do that in your room only'' as she is a member of the family and entitled to use the space in which we live.

By the way, my daughter is 7. Is considered by nearly all adults and children as well-behaved, has tons of friends, loves her life (most of the time) and is a true delight to be around. Mom of a terrific daughter


I have felt confused about this too, I'm sure it's very common. Two books I have read that were very helpful to me were ''Girls Will Be Girls'' and ''Between Parent and Child'' sorry I don't remember the authors. I know you mentioned that you had boys, but the parenting sections of the girl book are pretty general. Really, what the books did were help me articulate my parenting beliefs, so that I knew were I stand on issues and therefore can set limits and enforce them. Both books say your main job is to enforce safety and communicate your values. You can allow all feelings, but you should control behavior. When I am certain where I stand on an issue, I find I don't feel bad putting my foot down and don't feel anxious if my kid doesn't like it.

If I'm anxious about my kid's protest, then I need to define to MYSELF what I think about a situation. If I'm not comfortable with a behavior (running by the patio chairs, for example) I say, ''I'm nervous youre going to slip and cut your head open, please run over there by the fence.'' Then if they don't do it, they can't do what naturally follows (I don't cooperate with them on a request for ice cream, if they can't cooperate with me about the chairs). Figure out what you really think and believe, deal with your own feelings and then feel confident about where you stand and set a limit. I hope this helps


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