Who Rules the Roost?

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‘Why do you have to be so strict?’ my eldest son asked me the other day in that petulant tone of voice only a preteen can perfect. I have to admit I felt a small surge of satisfaction at his question, although it was by no means meant as a compliment. The reason being that most of the time I don’t consider myself to be strict enough with my kids. In fact, I often feel that both my husband and I are floundering our way along this parenting malarkey – we make rules that we don’t enforce, threats that we don’t carry through and punishments that we don’t implement – all big no-no’s in any parenting handbook. I’m definitely not the mum who stops them eating crisps on the sofa when watching a movie, shoos them out if they climb into our bed at night, or insists that they finish every morsel on the plate at meal time. And I’m easily swayed – a loving cuddle or sweet smile is often all it takes to break my resolve.

That doesn’t mean that we have no rules or that our household is one big happy harmonious love-in. The biggest battleground, and the area where I am most strict, is without a doubt screen time, or more specifically playing games on the iPad and the Xbox. Put simply, it boils down to this: they want more time on the screens than we are prepared to give them. Now, some would argue that this is self-inflicted and I would be inclined to agree; after all, no one forced us to boost Apple’s already considerable coffers by buying these devices and loading them up with age appropriate games for our kids. I’m not against video games per se, but I can definitely see a change in the boys’ behaviour when they have too much time in front of the screen. So our current rule is iPads and Xbox on weekends only, unless they have a play date in which case they’re allowed an hour or so if the friend wants to play (after all, I don’t want to be labelled as the boring mum who bans all electronics!) Recently, we’ve also introduced two TV free days every week with mixed success as I often forget or give in to their whining (yes I know, another parenting faux pas!)

In the long run, I’m hoping that these rules will help them develop an attitude where video games (as well as social media when they get older) are a part of their leisure time but do not dominate it. It’s not easy to set these limits for yourself, even as an adult. Many a time I have logged onto Facebook under the pretext of just quickly checking the news feed, only to emerge half an hour later with no idea where the time went. If I, as a grown up, find it hard to limit my screen time how can I expect them to self regulate?

The other contentious area is helping around the house. I constantly have to remind the children to do even simple things like clearing away their plates and putting their dirty clothes in the laundry basket, not to mention the arguments that ensue when they’re asked to tidy up their rooms. This week we started using a sweetie jar reward system to ‘encourage’ them to remember these things and to do extra chores around the house, as well as their homework and music practice. So far it seems to be working and they get to eat the sweets they have collected on Friday night while watching a movie. Part of me is loathe to reward them for doing things that should be automatic but I was getting tired of the sound of my own voice and the sweets seem to be more persuasive than words!

At the moment my ten year old is chomping at the bit to have more freedom, such as walking to school and to friends’ houses by himself and being allowed to stay at home when I collect his siblings from activities and play dates. It has presented me with a great opportunity to emphasise that more freedom also equals more responsibility. For instance, if he makes himself a sandwich when I’m out he has to tidy up after himself and, if he walks home from school, he has to remember to bring his homework and lunch box. Little things, perhaps, but in the past I have been guilty of doing all this for him just because it’s quicker. It’s a learning process for me as well – I have to accept that his version of ‘making the bed’ is a little different from mine and if he forgets his homework, rather than driving straight over to the school, let him face the consequences the next day. Slowly but surely, we will get there in the end…

Are you a strict or laid-back parent (or perhaps a mix of both)? Which rules will you not budge on? And if you have any great tricks up your sleeve on how to get the kids to clean up after themselves without complaining, please do share!

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{This sounds like a good set of family rules to me}

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17 thoughts on “Who Rules the Roost?

  1. Great post! We are definitely a mix of both. Doing their best in school, bed time on school nights and manners/respect for us/others are probably the main things we are adamant about. My son doesn’t have a lot of time during the week for games or TV so that hasn’t been an issue for us. We have taken away his legos or iPad (he really likes his iPad) for games/reading and give him a real book if he is misbehaving. We also make him study more at those times. 🙂 LOVE your “sweetie jar” idea! I don’t love rewarding them for things they should just do either but, I think it does help them get in the habit of doing as they should so it’s worth it to me. xo

    • I agree, it is a good short term strategy to change the behaviour and get them back on track. My boys are really competitive with each other (which can drive me up the wall) so they’ve been trying to outdo each other and get the most sweets. We have pretty much the same priorities – I think if you teach them to do their best, and be polite and kind/considerate to others, half the battle is won. xxx

  2. Ugh. Maybe I should print out those rules and stick them to my wall. And make myself a sweetie jar to help me stick with them 🙂 .

    Honestly I don ‘t know the answer, and based on my experiences growing up, I suspect it’s a constant battle. And then as you suggest, one day they’ll be battling with themselves. But it’ll still be a battle, either way.

    • I agree totally and probably a case of picking the battles you care the most about, otherwise it’s likely you will be at loggerheads most of the time. I can see it with my eldest who is ten and a half, he is constantly pushing for more (whether it’s screen time, staying up later, more sweets, more freedom) and unless I set clear boundaries he will probably carry on doing so well into his teens. At the same time I want to keep the lines of communications open and protect the close relationship we already have so that he feels he can confide me when the teenage traumas start (as they undoubtely will..) X

  3. Parents need to be parents, not friends or buddies with any child (by definition, under eighteen). You set fair and firm rules, enforce them in a friendly but firm manner. If they chafe at it, in my opinion, you explain your reasoning succinctly and then enforce it consistently thereafter, despite any protestations. Parents are responsible for launching a child safely, not for winning a popularity contest or mimicking the behaviour of other parents. When there are no boundaries or when those boundaries can be breached or constantly move, we set up children for a lifetime of neuroses. That is what the research tells us and that has been my experience, clinically.

    By the way, less time on electronics of all kinds, especially television and computers, is better for eye and ear health as well as mental and emotional development. I would not let the peer group dictate home practices in critical areas. That is my professional opinion, hope I am not being to didactic!

  4. I’m horrible and strict. There are lines and they know where they are. Having said that, I have to stick by them too..like homework. They don’t have to do it..but if they don’t..they have to explain to their teacher why not. Consequence..they’ve never not done it..but there’s never been an argument to anger over it. I’m very keen for them to take responsibility and learn there are consequences to their actions, it’s hard, because I want them to love being at home – but I don’t want it to be a gilded cage.. xxxxx

    • I think you’ve got the right approach. When rules are firm there don’t have to be any arguments about them and you can enjoy the rest of the time more. I need to work on being more consistent but hopefully I am getting there. xxx

  5. Pingback: Screen Time: A Healthy Eating Pyramid | Journeys of the Fabulist

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