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Learning to live within boundries
begins when the child 
is very young.
Learning to live within boundries
begins when the child
is very young.
(# 0032)


479 words


Where Do Your Rules Live?
by Dianne Roth



Where do the rules live? Ask your children. Most will say the rules live in mom and dad or the teacher. Some adults still think the rules live in the boss or the police. I belly laugh and say, “I don’t think so!”

Once or twice my children behaved horridly with a sitter. My son excused himself, saying the sitter let him. I explained that I did not hire the sitter to know the rules. Our rules were family rules. The family was responsible for following them. The consequence was easy. The next time I had a night out, I reminded my sons of the problem. They were tucked into bed for the night when the sitter arrived. He was welcome to watch TV, have snacks, or listen to music, but my children were to stay in their beds for the entire evening.

It took a while, but they learned that their freedom was greatly expanded when the rules became their own. If they did their chores without nagging, they were free to play with friends. If they got up in the morning, they could stay up in the evening. If they spoke respectfully to me, they were welcome to join me for dinner. If they came home on time, they were free to go out another night. If they were responsible, they got to use my car.

“How many times have I told you...?” is the clue that adults have taken charge of the rules. Kids love it. Their only worry is, “Will I get caught!” Unfortunately, in busy households, the odds are in their favor. My children’s favorite childhood stories are about what they got away with.

For the record, it is impossible to make children follow the rules. As a parent or teacher, I can use all of my time and energy telling children what to do or not to do, playing police officer. Not much learning happens and no one has much fun.

In my family and in my classroom, I tell children, “You can do anything you want, as long as you do what I want. The first time, they only hear the first part. The second time, they think it is just a trick. We have many conversations about this simple idea before children begin to catch on. Within the boundries of clear rules and expectations, they can do anything they want.

This is true, even in our adult lives. Getting angry with rules and blaming authority figures are symptoms of not taking responsibility for knowing and following rules that live within ourselves. Look around, see if you can pick out who I am talking about.

Where do your rules live? If you follow the speed limit, return money when given too much change, pay for what you take, work independently, are honest and fair, you are lucky. The rules live in you.


Dianne Roth is a teacher, mother, grandmother, and freelance writer. She lives in Oregon.




Last updated on October 8, 2012