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Three house rules to live by

Raising caring, thoughtful children all starts with respect, inside and outside the home. No matter what other rules apply in your household, starting with the bottom line of respect can help parents build thoughtful guidelines for their kids and themselves.
This screenshot from shows the cover for 'Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic' by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.

Whenever you are setting rules with your children you can use this rule of thumb. Every rule you make should fall into one of these three general rules:

  1. Respect Yourself
  2. Respect Others
  3. Respect Property

If your rules do not fall into one of these categories, they are likely to be arbitrary and may seem unfair or illogical to your children, hence will not be followed without a power struggle. 

For example: "No hitting" falls under both rules of "Respect Self" and "Respect Others." Doing chores or jobs around the house comes under "Respect Others" and "Respect Property," as does "No throwing in the house," or "No kicking the dog."

However, a rule like "Homework must be done before any gaming time" is tricky. It isn’t about respect as much as it is about obedience, which children don’t always understand. Homework time is often more of a scheduling issue. Be sure not to send the message that "You have to do homework when I say so because I don’t trust you." It always backfires when children feel they have to prove themselves to their parents.

To make a homework rule effective, you want to ensure that it follows the “Respect Yourself” rule, which means that homework time should be considered as managed mostly by your child with your help and involvement. Your child must have the right to decide what his needs are after school hours. In other words, if you insist on homework being done first thing after school (so it’s out of your hair and you don’t have to worry about it), that is being disrespectful of your child’s needs.

Your child may need to chill out for a while after a long day at school and have an hour of video gaming, or playing outside, or whatever before homework, which they might rather do after dinner. In the same vein, the rule "Respect Yourself" means that you as the parent can say, “I am available for help and questions at these times only,” allowing your child to consider that offer when choosing when to do homework.

Similarly, rules around bedtime and physical hygiene might be easier managed if you are clear about them falling under the "Respect Yourself" rule. Then be sure that you don’t expect your child to understand the importance of self-care until they are much older. Some rules in this area are still best to be set by parents when the child is too young to know what is needed to care for and respect their body.

This is when I suggest calling on the "Parent Card." This is a good example of you being respectful of your child. “I don’t expect that you will know and understand how much sleep you need to be healthy and strong/the importance of brushing your teeth/maintaining a clean body. That’s what I’m here for. It’s a parent’s job to make sure that things you don’t care about yet get done.”

Then respect for your child is shown by giving some choices about how these things get done. “What song shall we sing for marching up the stairs tonight?” “Do you want to brush your teeth or get in pajamas first?” “Shall we read two long books, or three short ones tonight?” “Which three days of the week do you want to take your shower? Morning or evening?”

We must never forget the importance of modeling respect for our children, for their desires, and for their ways of looking at things. In order to respect our children, it is imperative that parents have an understanding of the developmental needs and wants of their children at different ages as well as their specific temperamental needs. Getting angry at a 2-year-old for grabbing a toy away from another child and expecting him to apologize is being disrespectful to him.

Expecting a 13-year-old to understand and care more about you and your needs than their own will lead you right into disrespect. We can quickly label a child as disrespectful of us if we don't take time to see an issue from their angle. Rather than disrespect, it is far more likely that the child is focused so intently on what they think they look like, or what someone at school said to them yesterday than what you asked them to do for you.

That doesn’t mean let it go, because of the general rule of "Respect Others." But it does mean that as a parent, you can show your child respect by understanding that they are NOT showing disrespect. They just need reminders of what is being asked – without tones of disapproval and disappointment.

Respecting our children goes miles toward gaining their consideration and appreciation, not to mention their respect of others' needs and rights as they grow. We just need to know how to set our expectations in a way that is respectful of their stage of development and individual temperament.

We can set limits, problem solve in order to hold our children accountable for their unacceptable behavior, and express our anger all with full respect and consideration of our children. Take the rest of today and watch yourself communicating with your child. Ask, "Am I being respectful?" with everything you say. Ask yourself, "How would I like hearing what I’m saying right now?"

For information on development, anything from the Gesell Institute is a good resource. Also, authors Frances L. Ilg and Louise Bates Ames write books for each age, "Your One Year Old," "Your Two Year Old," on up through the teen years. For temperament, a great resource is Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s "Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic," whether your child is spirited or not. 

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Bonnie Harris blogs at

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