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Parenting Tip of the Month

Choosing Your Battles

It has been said that wise parents choose their battles carefully. This is especially true for parents with impulsive, difficult children. Each established house rule requires close supervision and consistent follow-through. Getting a child to complete his homework and succeed in school is far more important than a clean room. Not stealing (honesty) is more important than either. Therefore, we suggest parents divide potential house rules into four categories: Zero Tolerance Rules; Negotiable Rules; Drives Me Nuts Rules, and Let It Go.

Zero Tolerance Rules
Zero Tolerance Rules are based on behaviors that harm children, harm others, are illegal, or immoral. Examples of things that are harmful to our children would include alcohol use, violent behavior, and refusal to do homework. Again, the behavior, if allowed to continue, will significantly interfere with our children’s success. These are non-negotiable rules. Violations of these most important Zero Tolerance Rules could be compared to felonies.

Negotiable Rules
Negotiable Rules are also important household rules, but rules for which parents should seek and encourage input from their children. Examples of Negotiable Rules might include: which household chores children choose to do; when children will clean their room; how and when the dinner table is set; or, grooming requirements. Violations of these rules could be compared to misdemeanors.

“Cleaning house when your kids are still growing up is like shoveling the walk before it starts snowing.”
– Phyllis Diller

Drives Me Nuts Rules
Drives Me Nuts, A.K.A. the I know it is silly, but it is really important to me rule, is next. An example of this type of rule might be the dishes washed as soon as the meal is finished. For some parents, a messy kitchen may drive them nuts. Many of our children do insignificant things that drive us, as parents, nuts.

Example: One parent thinks manners are the supreme virtue; for her, a child’s burp is infuriating. Another parent may rate a clean bedroom as next to godliness; a child leaving a dirty pile of clothes on the bedroom floor drives him nuts.

These parents may need to include daily manners and bedroom chores in the Drives Me Nuts category. However, parents should be careful not to expect perfection from their children. We do not want our children to become nuts over a rule just because we are. Therefore, parents should carefully examine and seek to severely limit rules in this category.

Let it Go
Let It Go rules or ideals would include our best of world wishes. Nice, but not critical. These ideals would not be thrown away, but perhaps reserved for later. Examples might include brushing teeth after every meal or a tucked-in shirt.

When establishing your family rules, we recommend limiting the number of rules to a manageable number, usually no more than five or six. That’s correct, five or six total rules. So how do we do that? The rules we set should be more like “Guiding Life Principles.” Principles like “Only kind words and actions,” or, “We all help around the house,” cover a lot of territory and eliminate the need for 10 or 20 rules in each of those categories.

Parents should only make rules they are able and willing to enforce. When parents fail to provide consequences for broken house rules, the message we send to our children is, rules are not important. If the rule is worth making, it is worth enforcing.

When establishing house rules it is also important to concentrate on concrete, observable behaviors more than addressing children’s attitudes. When parents are able to bring about positive change in a child’s behavior, the child’s attitude change usually follows.

Focus on the larger issues. Violence, breaking or throwing things, offensive language, poor school performance, smoking, and continued refusals to cooperate are some of the behaviors that require a parent’s complete attention. Parents should not negotiate with their children with these behaviors. Instead, parents should clearly communicate their household rules to their children and follow through with negative consequences when the rule is broken.

Deciding what is most important to the overall growth and development of a child is not as easy as it seems. Some of the things that drive parents nuts, such as the need to have an immaculate house, are not critically important to the overall growth and development of our children. In fact, demanding perfection from our children can cause serious, long-term problems for kids. However, learning to resolve issues peacefully and going to school daily will significantly support our child’s success.

“My theory on housework is, if it doesn’t multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you?” – Erma Bombeck


Loving Solutions is a parent-training program designed for parents raising difficult younger children, ages 5-10 years.