A few parents visibly cringe when they hear the word, rules. They worry that having rules will strangle their children's expression, diminish their relationship or simply find it work that is too hard. The result of this sort of belief is a rapidly emerging group of young people who have been subjected to what's been called "loving neglect". A statement recently released by the British National Association of Head Teachers said that some parents "love their children too much to say no". Their children eat too much, eat what they like, do what they like, go to bed when they want and watch too much television. They see the problem as running throughout all socioeconomic groups and is responsible for creating a group of young people unfit to pay attention, unfit to remember, unfit to follow instruction and with little respect for their learning.
Let's build on the idea of developing rules as a thoroughly positive way for everyone in the family to know what's expected from them and what they can expect from others. Effective rules:
Apply as much to behaviour as they do to who's responsible for doing what.
Bring about structure and predictability.
Deliver emotional stability to individuals and the family.
Require thoughtful development, rather than being driven by an overreaction following an irritating incident.
Start by putting to your children, no matter what their age, the questions:
"What rules do you think will help our family?"
"What rules should be negotiable?"
"What rules need to be non-negotiable?"
- Page 35 -
Just as you know what is likely to help, so will they. So often it's not making the rule that that tips the balance, but more the act of asking and participating with your children that will make the difference. The commencement of a new year, a new school term or the birth of a new age following a birthday is an ideal time to review family structures and rules. Naturally, they are easier to negotiate if there is a history of jointly raising and resolving issues through discussion.
Your first response to this idea is likely that family meetings seem old-school or corny. This seems the initial response of most, but so often family meetings reap refreshing benefits simply because they get everyone talking. The essence of family meetings is to review what's happening in the family, what's working and what's not. It presents a forum to discuss, review and make changes. Family meetings are an excellent vehicle to build relationship, model respect and demonstrate compromise.
Here are a few ideas to design family meetings around:
Put aside twenty minutes each week, fortnight or month.
Keep to this time - avoid rescheduling - mark the meeting on to the calendar. It needs to exist in its own right so don't mix it with mealtimes or television.
Keep an agenda sheet on the fridge or pin up board and remind others to add topics to it, especially when problems crop up. Try not to introduce too much at each meeting.
During the meeting turn off mobile phones and take the phone off the hook so the potential for interruptions is limited.
Parents with younger children often choose to elect a new chairperson and secretary each meeting, while parents with teens tend to keep the meeting less formal. Young chairpersons and secretaries will of course need your support. Ideally, rotate these positions at each meeting.