Feel Better, Live Better: Rules vs. Relationship

We all know parenting can be a challenge. Trying to figure out how to be there for your kids, while also maintaining structure can be tricky. Two important components to consider are rules and relationship; what are they and how do they interact?

In families, rules are the behavioral guidelines set by the parents. Having these guidelines enables children and teens to know exactly what is and is not acceptable, giving them the freedom to live without uncertainty of what is expected of them. In this way, rules serve as a sort of safety net. When children generally know what to expect, and can predict how the family will function from day to day, they feel safer and more confident. This also translates to how they interact with authority and with peers outside of the home. Appropriately utilizing rules in your home includes making sure that rules are enforceable, are clearly defined, and that consequences for breaking these rules are consistently followed through upon. Rules are not meant to micro-manage, but rather to create a safe set of guidelines for age-appropriate behavior that help your home to be a safe and happy place.

While rules are an important part of parenting, they are only part of the equation. As a well-known psychologist has stated, “rules without relationship leads to rebellion”. A healthy relationship with your children and teens is an imperative part of bringing up healthy children. This does not mean that there won’t be bad days, or attitudes, or door slamming. It does mean that no matter what happens, pursuing quality time with your children on a consistent basis is a priority. Quality time may look like going out for ice cream one on one, or simply taking a few minutes to play a game. No matter how you spend quality time with your kids, remember to listen without judgement, and to ask questions. This is their time to know that you’re there, and that you value them. While some parents struggle with quality time, other parents may place too much emphasis on the relationship aspect. This can look like trying to be your child’s best friend, allowing unacceptable behavior to avoid conflict, and not following through on limits to hopefully improve your child’s view of you, among other things. This type of parenting may ultimately do your child more harm than good. While they may interact well with you, they often struggle in other aspects of life such as school or work.

Both rules and relationship must be consistent. A child feeling loved one day and unloved the next can produce feelings of insecurity (and poor behavior) just like enforcing a rule one day and letting it slide the next. While rules and relationships are both important parts of parenting, one will rarely work without the other. They operate like a scale, and when you have too much of one or the other, things get off balance. A healthy relationship with your children is a foundation you can build on with the structure offered by appropriate and reasonable rules. You are more likely to get compliance from a child who respects and wants to please you than a child who is only trying to avoid a negative consequence. On the other hand, a child is more likely to respect a parent who consistently keeps their word by sticking with the defined rules and consequences. Life is far from predictable, and parenting is an extremely hard job. Always remember to listen to your kids, to create a consistent home environment, and to ask for help when you need it.

~ by Adam Martin, LPC

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor