Do You Have Rules for Your Children, Or Do Your Children Rule You? by David Bredehoft


When I was growing up one thing was very clear, my mother and father had rules, and I was expected to follow them. This only seemed natural, because not only did my parents have rules, but I also soon discovered that my school, my church, my city, and my state had them too, and I was expected to follow all of them!

Looking back I now see that my parents, John and Elsie, were good rule makers. Oh, not overly harsh rules, or too wishy-washy rules, just good middle-of-the-road rules! You see, there needed to be rules in a household that at one point included two parents, two elderly grandparents, four children, and Bud our dog.

I didn’t always appreciate or understand it then, but I now know these rules helped with many things. Sometimes these rules helped to bring order out of chaos. Sometimes these rules protected me. Sometimes these rules acted like a road map showing what was expected of me. And at times these rules helped me to learn many of life’s most valuable lessons. Teaching children the rules begins when they are young and continue as they grow.

Consider the story of twins named Jamie and Josh

Jamie and Josh are busily exploring their world. Regularly Mom lets them scoot across the kitchen floor to a cabinet, open it up, and noisily pull out each pot and pan. “What a wonderful game you two are involved in,” Mom says. I love the way you are learning about your world.”

Twin Boys. Photo by Raul Carabeo https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATwin_boys.JPG.  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The next week Mom and Dad, Jamie and Josh go to visit friends. As the friends chat in their living room, Jamie and Josh scurry around the living room floor. Before long they open the built-in buffet and begin to pull out all of its contents. As the host-couple look nervously on, not knowing what to do, the twins’ mother says, “Aren’t they cute! They are just a bundle of energy,” then she and her husband ignore the twins and continues with the adults in conversation.

Mom’s response to the twins at home seems appropriate and is not a form of overindulgence. However, to allow the twins to do the same thing at a friends’ house is a form of overindulgence called soft structure. The twins are robbed of an opportunity to learn the important lesson that some behaviors which are appropriate at home are not appropriate in other places.

Not too Soft and Not too Hard

Being too soft is not the answer. Desperate parents who are too soft on structure sometimes flip to the other side of the continuum thinking the answer lies in being hard, rigid, or inflexible. Being too hard is not the answer either. The answer is in the middle, in balance – a combination of effective nurture and structure (see Developmental Parenting Highway). 

What Can Parents Do Instead?

There are many ways that parents can find middle ground. Some of them are:

·  have a reasonable set of rules

·  be consistent in enforcing your rules

·  have age appropriate rules adjusting the rule to each new level of child development

·  set reasonable expectations about chores, and

·  as children demonstrate greater responsibility, increase their level of freedom.

·  show appreciation to your children for how well they follow rules.


There is more help about avoiding overindulgence in How Much is Too Much? Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children – From Toddlers To Teens – In An Age of Overindulgence (2014, DaCapo Press Lifelong Books).

Photo by Raul Carabeo https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATwin_boys.JPG.  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

© David J. Bredehoft, Jean Illsley Clarke & Connie Dawson 2004-2018;  bredehoft@csp.edu, jiconsults@aol.com