One of the hardest things to do as a parent is to enforce discipline with your kids. It feels mean, and no parent enjoys their child crying or yelling. But discipline is required for them to learn boundaries, appropriate behavior, and helpful life skills.
Select rules that make sense for your family
Your family rules should reflect your family values and priorities. The longer the list of rules, the harder it is for your child to follow, and the more energy it takes from you to enforce it all! Prioritize well and ensure that the rules are meaningful and age-appropriate.
Clearly define the rules, so everyone is on the same page. “Be respectful” means different things to each of us. A well-defined rule will include the desired behavior (saying “please” and “thank you”) as well as the will-not-be-tolerated behavior (hitting and cursing). Rules should also be specific enough so everyone knows what is expected – “take out the trash” versus “take the trash can to the street by 8pm every Tuesday.”
Set your children (and you!) up for success
Before you have to enforce the rules, it will help to explain to your children why these rules are important. Why should they “be respectful”? Why should they take out the trash? Explain the value behind the rule.
Success also comes when children have an opportunity to see the rule in action, and when they are positively reinforced for following the rule (or trying to follow the rule). Model the rules to your children. If you don’t allow them to curse, avoid cursing in front of them. Live out the values (and rules) that you are trying to instill in your children. And when you see them trying to follow the rules, give them praise and appreciation – they’ll be more likely to do it again!
Learning life skills
Your children will learn decision-making skills as they learn what is expected (rule) and what the outcome will be (consequence). They will learn consistency from your consistency. They will learn emotional regulation as they experience you staying calm and consistent despite their anger and tears. These “family rules” also provide you the clear and unemotional foundation from which to enforce your discipline.
Will your children always make the right decision? No. Of course not. But… neither will their parents. Thankfully, we remember that “the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Proverbs 3:12)