Are rules meant to be broken?

Photo by JunCTionS via Flickr

Photo by JunCTionS via Flickr

I’m sitting in a plane trying to stretch my legs and figure out if there is any way these seats could be more uncomfortable and the flight attendant comes over the speaker, “Due to the turbulence, the captain has turned on the seatbelt sign. Please return to your seats and remain seated until the seatbelt sign is no longer illuminated.”

No kidding, within two minutes, three different people got up from their seats and bounced their way back to the bathroom. It was almost as if they waited for the opportunity when everyone else was going to be seated to go to the bathroom.

Didn’t you just hear the lady??? Its freakin’ dangerous to be walking around in the plane like this, and if you knock over my drink on me…Even if you aren’t moved by the fact that this plane is bouncing around like crazy and you might hurt yourself or, God forbid, someone else, it’s the darn rule!

Of course, being the lame rule-follower I tend to be in these situations, I look up to see the flight attendant immersed in Fifty Shades of something, not paying a bit of attention to the rule-breakers. Really? If it is not that big of a deal, why turn on the light anyway? Let us roam around and use the bathroom if you are not convinced enough there is actual danger that you will be willing to follow through.

Alright, so where is the behavior/parenting part of this?

It is important when we make rules, when we draw a line in the sand, that we follow through with them. That leads to consistency, and with consistency you automatically increase your child’s experience with the consequences of different situations, good and bad. For example,

RULE: “I don’t want you to climb on the top bunk when the fan is on” (one from our house)

Lets say this happens 10 times. If you only follow through five times (either by reinforcing the rule following or not reinforcing the rule being broken), you have NOT followed through another five times. Since learning comes with experiences, you have extended the learning time on this by half. You have also likely allowed for times in the future when he will climb up on the top bunk with the fan on that might not have occurred if you would have followed through. You might have increased the danger by trying to avoid it.

The unexpected lesson? Make fewer rules.

Sure, I would love to sit back and say, “follow through consistently,” but I think I have already said that and I also think it might be a bit naive. In real life, stuff happens and things move at the speed of a 4 year old’s attention span. You are not always going to be able to follow through, and even if you could, you are not always going to want to.

So here is the lesson:

You can create a better ratio of compliance with rules by presenting less rules. If you have too many rules, you are stacking the deck against you. There is no way you will follow through with them. If you have fewer rules, or only ask your kids to do things when you really mean it, you automatically increase the power of your requests.

Why have the rules if you don’t really care and are only saying it because you think its the motherly/fatherly thing to say. You might be teaching them to ignore you, or at least to not listen the first time.

Think about the rules you have in your home. Which ones matter? Which one’s don’t? Take a few moments to re-evaluate this.

There might be times when it is appropriate for you to turn on the “seatbelt light” in your house, but when you do, make sure it matters enough you will follow through. If not, leave it off and continue to enjoy your Fifty Shades….

2 thoughts on “Are rules meant to be broken?

    • Im not exactly sure what you mean when you say, “that won’t work,” but I think you actually might have identified the other problem in the second half of your statement when you say, “until he gets you mad.” I think what you mean is “until he gets you mad enough that you give up and give in, or so mad that you result to more harsh punishment.” If that is the case, I think there is something to learn about that. Sounds like he has learned to escalate his behavior until he reaches the breaking point. Be careful he is not learning that the more intense his behavior gets…the more likely it is he will get what he wants. You might want to try reading about kicking the coke machine:

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