House Rules by ChildGrower A. Woz.

This post is adapted from an online forum discussion at where Woz blogs.

A parent with children who argue with him on most matters,  posted a forum question asking for some general house rules.  He needed firm boundaries to stop the constant badgering and wanted to set clear expectations about appropriate communication because his daughter was picking up some bad habits from big brother.  (son 10, daughter 6)

When writing your house rules, start with simple broad rules that establish respectful discussion and safety.

Say Yes when you can.

—My son asks for a cookie. Instead of saying, “No, it is dinner time.” I say, “Yes, after dinner.”  The positive spin allows parents to say yes more often while establishing the authority over the current circumstances.

No means no.

—Some issues are non-negotiable. Some people believe that teaching negotiation or alternative solutions is a good skill for kids especially by age 10. If the issue is one that you are willing to negotiate, make it clear how negotiations proceed.  Our children use the words,  “Mom, can I make a deal with you?” to find out if an issue is a final answer or if there is room for negotiation.

Negotiable issues require a normal and respectful tone/voice (no whining, begging, foul language, etc ) or they will not be considered.

—State the dismissal of the negotiation and walk away if the normal voice is not used. (My children liked to throw themselves on the floor when they didn’t get their way, so we had to add that they have to stand up when making requests!)  Sometimes in the minds of children, a small concession makes them feel heard and deal-making can be kind of insightful.  i.e.  My daughter once asked if she could go play with her friend. We had some things to do so she was told no. She then asked if she could just call her on the phone instead. I was expecting the deal making to involve a way to leave the house and go visit, but she surprised me with a reasonable compromise that allowed her to connect with her buddy in an equally satisfying way. NOTE: Remember to be clear if the deal is for this one time only…Negotiated outcomes apply for this time and issue but may not be extended to future similar situations.

Speak respectfully to every person.
—This means parents have to follow this rule when talking to kids and vice versa! Another way to say it is, “Build people up, don’t tear them down” or when the kids were little we used the words, “Are you saying that to make Susie feel big or are you saying that to make her feel small?”

Mom and Dad always give the same answer.
— Parents have to get in touch with partners and make sure to back each other up and if you have any suspicions, don’t be afraid to just say, “Let me check with your dad on this and I’ll get back to you”.  Make sure you talk to spouse privately if you had to back them up on an issue that you disagree with. A follow-up conversation with your partner strengthens your parenting stance and your future success in handling issues. Don’t bother asking the child, “What did your father say?” if you know you have been manipulated in the past. On the Empowering Parents website James Lehman parents not set your child up for a lie because the child will tell you what he thinks you want to hear and his goal is to get what he thinks is important.   Just go and ask dad yourself or give the answer that you wish and leave it at that.

Keep hands feet and objects to yourself.
—This is a kindergarten level rule that works for everyone’s safety. For little kids we asked, “Is your brother a ball? No. Then he is not for kicking.”  As they got older we graduated to “Never touch anyone when you are angry”. Arguing/ using your mouth is always better than using physical force to make a point or win an argument or get your way. This is a good reminder for parents, too. Someday your child may be bigger than you are, taller, stronger, etc. Employing physical force when they are young stops working as they grow. Communication improves over time for children so the skill of verbal debate is one that gets stronger as it ages– and is much more socially applicable to situations outside of your home which frankly is the world in which you are preparing your child to navigate successfully when he is all grown up.

###March 1, 2010.

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