Setting rules for kids is a necessary part of being a parent. Most of us believe that the rules are there to help our children. But have you ever stopped to consider whether you are making rules to benefit your kids or rather to make your life easier?

Before proceeding with this discussion, I will note that I’m talking about setting rules for kids I’m talking about both the official rules we lay out (don’t stick your fingers in the outlet) and our expectations (no temper tantrums in public).

I’m sure every parent has rules for their kids, even those who say they don’t. Here are some of the rules or expectations that we’ve created in our household for Hailey. And I’m sure the list of rules, both official and unwritten, will expand as she grows.

  1. Sit to eat
  2. Wait for one of us before going up or down the stairs
  3. She can play in the kitchen cupboards but not with the garbage or anything made of glass
  4. No biting other people
  5. Be happy and calm when we’re out
  6. Listen when we ask her to do something
  7. Wait until we’re all finished eating before she can leave the table
  8. Sleep during the night

Let’s examine the list.

  • The first 3 are related to safety and are mostly for her benefit. We don’t want her to choke on food, fall down the stairs, or get cut by broken glass.
  • Rules 4 & 5 are mostly related to social norms. She would be perfectly happy biting other babies or adults but I’m going to bet that no body else would like it. Being happy and calm while she’s out in public is more socially acceptable and makes us parents look good.
  • Rules 6-8 make our lives easier. It’s easier if she does what we ask. It’s easier if she isn’t running around while we’re eating dinner. And let’s face it, I like to sleep at night because my days go a whole lot smoother.

Hmmm…. from the looks of it, many of our rules and expectations are mostly for my benefit. And I’m sure if you looked closely at your own you would come to the same conclusion.


Does setting rules for kids make you selfish?

Here’s the Webster’s definition for “Selfish”: having or showing concern only for yourself and not for the needs or feelings of other people.

Looking at my example, rules 6-8 definitely fall under the selfish definition. I encourage you to take a look at your list of rules to see if you come to a similar conclusion.

So, before you start objecting to my logic or trying to rationalize those seemingly selfish rules let me ask you another question:


Is it wrong to be selfish?

Most of us think it is. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say absolutely not, be as selfish as you want. I’m giving you permission to think of yourself.

It’s ok to know what you want.

It’s ok to want things a certain way.

It’s ok to set expectations that will make you happier and calmer.

Your happiness is just as important as everyone else’s.

Your kids, spouse, or anyone else may resist this and not want to conform because their happiness is also just as important as everyone else’s.

Different things make different people happy. No one wants to conform to someone else’s rules all of the time. We are all individuals with different wants and needs.

And that’s ok.

This awareness is important. It allows us to reflect on the rationale behind the rules. This enables us to understand whether we can be flexible or must hold our ground.


What to do the next time you’re having a power struggle over rules

If you find yourself arguing or getting stressed out because your expectations aren’t being met, ask yourself:

1)  Who is this rule serving? Is it for my own benefit only or is there a greater reason like safety?

2)  If it benefits your children (or whoever you’re struggling with) then figure out what the specific benefit is.

You can then explain this benefit to them to see if they agree. They may agree with the beneficial outcome but not necessarily your approach. This may give you a starting point for negotiation or an awareness of how much you’re willing to be flexible.

If they don’t agree with the benefit then reevaluate.

3)  If it only benefits you then simply acknowledge that. You can decide if it’s worth the fight. Reflect on whether you can get what you want in a different way.

You don’t need to come up with all of the answers in the heat of the moment. Just having the awareness will give you an advantage and you may be able to come up with new approaches or reach a compromise.

I can argue until I’m blue in the face about how important it is to tidy up the house. But if no one else cares whether there’s stuff everywhere then it’s going to always be a struggle getting the help I need.

Unless of course they decide the fight isn’t worth it, it’s not that big of a deal to clean up, and it’s more important to make me happy. This is an example of coming to the conclusion that someone else’s happiness is the benefit, rather than a tidy house.

But under no circumstances should one person’s happiness come at the expense of another’s. Regardless of age.