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Rules Without Relationship = Rebellion

September 24, 2019

Dick Day and Josh McDowell teamed up to write one of my favorite books on parenting about 25 years ago, entitled, How To Be A Hero To Your Kids. You can get it for peanuts as a Kindle e-book, or you can get it in print for quite a few more peanuts. It would be a really good addition to any parent’s library.

In it, they use my favorite parenting phrase: Rules without relationship equal rebellion. That one phrase is worth the cost of the book. There’s a ton of other good ideas in the book, but this one phrase, for me, is the crown jewel.

I’m part of the generation that has been taught (and then have taught our students and kids) that rules are old-fashioned and repressive, and should be eliminated. From somewhere in the 1950’s, this theory began to saturate educational psychology in universities, and by about 1968, it had made its way into secondary schools, and shortly after, it passed through the educational percolator to the kindergarten classroom.

Let’s call them guidelines. “Rules” just seems so, well, harsh and repressive. Shouldn’t we guide our students instead of commanding them?

Umm. The short answer is, “No.” A large body of reliable research confirms that children who grow up in a vacuum of rules are insecure. Often, profoundly so. Their insecurity shows itself in a wide variety of ways. Everything from fear and anxiety about every potential and perceived threat (what has come to be called “snowflakes”), all the way to the other end of the spectrum, where they’ll talk smack to an approaching atomic warhead, because they think they’re bulletproof. On the one end of the extreme kids grow up believing they’re fragile and always at risk; on the other they believe the universe revolves around them.

Rules are essential in every society, be it a geographic country, or a nuclear family. Rules help provide consistency and safety and order. The right rules applied in the right way provide security.

That last sentence is essential. Especially in a family. The right rules applied in the right way give security and confidence to kids. Applying rules without also intentionally building relationship won’t work, though. Even if the rules are “right.” Dick and Josh are absolutely right, rules without relationship equal rebellion.

I’ve been asking you to think about the role of consequences in discipline for the last couple of installments. Utilizing the tool of consequences is the best way I know of for building a robust and healthy family. Consistently letting natural and planned consequences teach your kids is the path to them growing up knowing how to effectively relate to life in the real world and change it for the better.

One critical aspect of this process is that inconsistent consequences produce confused and angry people. If it’s right on Thursday, but wrong on Monday, or if you get one severe consequence on Sunday and a soft one on Wednesday, all sorts of bad things start to happen in a kid’s heart. Resentment begins to grow, and the end result is very ugly. If you feel like one sibling gets all the breaks, not only will you have resentment about the system, you’ll have resentment toward the sibling. Sometimes, this resentment will last for a lifetime.

Don’t misunderstand me, here. I’m not saying every child should be disciplined in the same way. That won’t work. Every child is different. How you apply the consequences and discipline needs to account for this fact. But if the rules are different for each kid, you’ll set them (and you) up for certain failure.

If the rule is that leaving their bike in the driveway means they have to leave it in the garage for the next day, except Johnny leaves his out and still gets to ride it the next day as if nothing happened, Jimmy will notice. And unless he’s an exceptionally merciful child (the odds are about 1 in 1000), he’s likely to be resentful about it. If it happens very often, Jimmy will probably start making his discontent known in some unhappy and ugly ways.

The rules need to be consistent, and they need to be applied consistently. But if you don’t have relational equity, you won’t be able to apply them effectively to each child, accounting for their individuality, even if you’ve got the right rules and you’re trying to be consistent in enforcing them.

So which is more important, consistently enforcing the rules or nurturing your relationship with your kids? Well, that’s like trying to decide which wing of an airplane is more important, the left or the right? They’re both essential.

Don’t give up consistently enforcing the rules. AND don’t give up nurturing a healthy relationship with your kid. It’s both/and. Because rules without relationship equals rebellion. But relationship without rules equals chaos. You don’t want either rebellion or chaos.

Next time, we’ll think about how you formulate your rules. How you do it is almost as important as that you do it.

From → Marriage, Parenting

  1. Rick Gunter permalink

    Love this. Thank you.

  2. Laura Kammarmeyer permalink


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