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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