Raising three boys, two of whom are twins, is not an easy task. I have had multiple people compliment me on how well-behaved the boys are. I would be consistently told how lucky I was. And I am lucky as they are wonderful children who fill my heart and home with love each day. But, luck has nothing to do with being well-behaved. Children aren’t born knowing instinctively how to behave in different environments. They learn by watching, listening and modelling the behaviour of adults and peers around them.
But, it can be hard work to constantly tell your child how to behave, what to do or what not to do. Nagging your child on a daily basis isn’t exactly the foundation of a healthy, loving relationship. Some parents set so many rules that the poor child is constrained and restricted from the moment he’s born. As a result, it becomes hard for the child to develop his own individual personality and thought process. Others set no boundaries at all. The child is free to do whatever he wants, irrespective of consequences to himself or others. Societal rules do not apply at all. Unfortunately, this child grows up feeling entitled and thinks that rules don’t apply to him. As always, the answer lies in the middle.
But, how do you find that balance for yourself and your child? Well, here’s what worked for me and continues to do so as my older one enters his teens. My rules are divided into what I like to call Negotiable and Non-negotiable Rules. I have three basic non-negotiable rules. There will be consequences if these rules are not complied with. And the best part is, most of what you would want your child to do falls under these three rules. It’s simple and easy for both your child and you to follow through on.
Rule 1: You shall not do anything to harm yourself
If you run around with a pair of scissors in your hand, you are likely to hurt yourself. So that’s a no. If you don’t brush your teeth, you cause damage to them. So that’s a no. If you eat only junk food, you are harming your body. So that’s a no. If you watch the screen all day, your eyes and brain get tired and strained. So, that’s a no. If you don’t have a bath, you’re again harming your body. So, that’s a no. Staying up past your bedtime hurts your body as your body needs time to rest and recuperate. So, that’s a no as well. If you run around a restaurant, a waiter might trip over you and hurt both you and him. So, that’s not allowed either. Doing anything that endangers you or your body is a non-negotiable rule.
Rule 2: You shall not do anything to harm another person
Hitting another child or an adult harms them. That’s not okay. Being mean to another child, being unkind and hurting someone’s feelings is not okay. Teasing an animal, pulling a dog’s tail or throwing stones at the neighbourhood cat is not okay. Any action that causes harm to another person or animal, whether physical or emotional is a non-negotiable rule.
Rule 3: You shall not damage property
Throwing things that are not meant to be thrown damages stuff. Playing football inside the house damages stuff. Jumping on sofas and beds damages the furniture. If you don’t put away your toys, they will get stepped on and broken. Treat your books gently. If you are rough with your books, the pages will tear. Any action that causes damage to physical property, whether it belongs to you or somebody else is a non-negotiable rule.
Everything else is negotiable. For example, having a bath is non-negotiable but when you have that bath is negotiable. You can choose to have a bath before breakfast or after. Brushing your teeth is non-negotiable. Your choice of toothbrush is negotiable. Let’s go shopping and buy you a toothbrush in a colour of your choice. Eating only junk food is non-negotiable. But, I’m happy to discuss if you want rotis or rice with your veggies and dal today.
Most actions that you would like your child to follow or not are covered under these three basic rules. It’s easy for both your child and you to remember and implement. And it doesn’t feel like your child has a million rules that she needs to follow. And the parts that are negotiable empowers her to feel in control of her life and choices. This allows you to focus on what’s important – raising a kind, considerate child who looks after herself, her body and is mindful of her environment.