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General Guidelines for Parenting: There Are No Rules

My basic rule of parenting is: There are no rules. The same thing will not work for everybody and things that work for nearly everybody won't always work. By experience, I've found that it is better to prevent problems than solve them. The following guidelines are as close to "rules" of parenting as I care to get.

Respect yourself. Be firm. Children will not respect a parent who has no self-respect. Respect your child. Be kind. Kids have tender feelings.

Have as few rules as possible for your kids. Don't have a rule you can't enforce or won't enforce. Choose your battles carefully. 

Explain the rules before a child breaks one, not afterward. Speak at the child's level (heads even) and make eye contact. Check for understanding by saying, "Tell me the rule." Don't ever ask, "Do you understand?"

Make the rules and set expectations appropriate to the child's age. Children become adults gradually, don't force it.

Avoid giving direct orders. There are better ways to win cooperation. Describe problems and let children tell themselves what to do. Instead of "Get your books off the table," try "Your books are on the table and the table needs to be set for dinner."

Give children a choice when they misbehave: Do you want to stop playing or leave the table? If no decision is made, make the decision for them.

Don't give a choice when one doesn't exist. Avoid "okay." The word "okay?" at the end of the sentence tells the child he HAS a choice. "It's time for bed, Okay?" Don't ask "Would you like to take a bath now?" when it's bathtime. Announce, "Bath time!"

Don't give unlimited choices. "What do you want for breakfast?" will lead to hassles. "Do you want eggs or cereal?" Much better.

There are three things you can never force a child to do: eat, sleep, and potty. If you try, you will lose. Children win if they engage parents in battle. You can't force a child to eat but you can make certain he comes to the table hungry. Separate bedtime from sleep time. Keep children in bed at bedtime but they can choose to sleep or not. If you force a child to go to the potty, watch out for revenge, "accidents" later.

Catch a child being good. What you notice you get more of.

Don't act like a child did something on purpose when it was an accident. Mistakes are not the same as faults. Teach how to make restitution, make amends, or sincerely apologize. These are life skills.

Avoid the following questions: Did you do it? (Did you see me?) Why did you do this? (don't know) or What happened? (Let's see, lamp broke on the floor -- parents don't get it... parents not very bright). These questions teach a child to lie. Instead, state the problem and serve up the consequences.

Stay out of sibling arguments. You can never be the referee. Both kids will turn on you.

Don't protect children from the consequences of their actions. If the logical consequences are reasonable in the first place, enforce them. If the natural consequences aren't dangerous, let them happen. Don't accept promises or remorse thinking they won't do it again. They will learn to be manipulative. Consequences teach the lesson, not words. Yes, they will suffer. This is part of learning.

Avoid severe punishment. Logical or natural consequences teach the appropriate behavior AND responsibility for one's actions. Cruel punishment teaches revenge.

Give children your attention and your time. They can't live without it.

Trust your instincts. When you love from the heart, you can't go too far wrong. Children are very forgiving.

See:

APA Reference
Gibson, E. (2019, August 9). General Guidelines for Parenting: There Are No Rules, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/parenting/challenge-of-difficult-children/general-guidelines-for-parenting-or-first-rule-there-are-no-rules

Last Updated: August 9, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD