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3 R’s for Real Freedom

April 23, 2019

My dad was raised in rural Missouri, not quite a hillbilly, but about as close as you could come without being one.  He became a well-educated and respected minister and addiction recovery counselor, with many years of formal education and rare experience in his field.  No longer a hillbilly.  You probably know that you can take the boy out of the hillbilly life, but you can’t take the hillbilly life out of the boy.  It was true of my dad.  Dad always said the 3 R’s were “Readin’, Ritin’, and Rithmatik.”  He wasn’t the only one of his generation who had these as the 3 R’s.  If a kid could read and write and do arithmetic, they could make it in life.  If not, they’d struggle mightily.

I came across 3 other R’s that kids need for life, recently.  Kids need rules, routines, and daily responsibilities. Author and child psychologist, John Rosemond, says, “These ‘Three R’s’ simplify kids’ lives, promote security, and provide a stable framework within which creative freedom is possible.”

Some people love rules.  They live by them.  Their consciences have been educated to stay between the lines.  These are the people most 1st grade teachers love.  They do their work, stay in line for lunch, don’t poke their neighbor, smile when they’re supposed to.

Other people love to make the rules.  And they love to enforce them.  Like the rule-keepers in their 1st grade class, they do their work and stay in line.  But they also like to police everybody else and make them (or try to) do their work and stay in line.  Usually they’re self-appointed.  Often they’re first-born, but not always.

Then there are the one’s who view rules as general suggestions.  They don’t so much set out to break the rules as they just don’t let the rules get in the way of a good time.  Their general motto is, “It’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.”

And then there are those who came into the world with their prime mission to seek out rules and break them.  They’re not bashful about it, either.  “Go ahead, make my day.”

In all cases, though, rules are one of the things that give a kid’s world structure and security.  Even for kids who don’t like the rules.  Even for kids who are in that last category, the ones who look for rules to break.  Structure and security are two of the primary needs that children have.  In fact, they will never outgrow these needs.  As adults, we will establish some kind of structure (even if it’s the chaotic structure of crisis management) to help us feel secure.  When kids feel insecure, they will eventually “act out.”  Eventually, they will behave in ways that will get someone’s attention.  Some kids are wired to do this quickly, but others are wired to gulp it down and stuff it out of their way.  It won’t stay out of their way, though.  And when it blows, it will get in your way, too.

I could write a lot more about rules, but you get the point. Rules are necessary.

There is this thing about rules that’s worth thinking about, though.  Sometimes kids break rules they didn’t even know existed.  But when they break the rule, the hammer falls.  This is true for adults, too.  Have you ever been in a situation where you did something innocently, but were reprimanded because it broke an unspoken rule in your place of work?  Great fun, isn’t it?  This happens to kids, too, only in their families, not at a workplace.  When this happens, the rules don’t provide structure and security.  They do the opposite.

Or worse than the unspoken rules are the inconsistent rules.  When it’s wrong to do something on one day, but not wrong to do it on another, there’s no security for the kid.  If rules are made on the fly and enforced on a whim, they will create life-altering insecurity for a kid.  Until they learn how to work the system to their advantage.  Then they’re able to punish their parents (or whomever makes the rules) in a thousand ways with their behaviors and actions.  If you don’t already know it, this is no fun for parents (or teachers).

There are two keys.  First, communicate the rules.  I know of families who have created a sort of Family Constitution that contains the goals of the family, and puts in writing things that are expected and which are not acceptable in their family.  The best of these Family Constitutions don’t have 300 rules in them.  They deal with the broad principles of what is acceptable and not acceptable.  This takes lots of serious thought from Moms and Dads.  And if the kids are in grade school or older, input from them can give a Family Constitution even better traction in real life.

I think the best rules are set up on an if-then basis.  They work on the basis of consequences.  Good behavior produces good consequences.  When you break the rules, there’s a negative consequence.  Making it known to everybody what the rules and consequences are is essential for this thing to work.

And then the second key: consistency.  Paul addresses this in Ephesians 6:4.  “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”  Nothing exasperates a child more than inconsistent rules and consequences.  (And by the way, what Paul originally addressed to fathers goes for mothers, too.)  Once you’ve communicated the rules to everybody in your family, you have to either let the natural consequences happen or cause the planned consequences to happen.  When everybody in your family is convinced that the rules apply to everybody the same way, and consistently, rules can bring a sense of stability and security.  I have a very strong opinion about how grace fits into this, but I’ve used up my word count already, so I’ll have to come back to it at some point.

If you want some help writing a Family Constitution, check this out (it was created in 2015, but it’s got some great tips):



From → Marriage, Parenting

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