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If-then contracts

I am struggling with letting go of expectations and rules. I am doing much better and I am way more laid back then I was at first but it's REALLY hard to let go of conventional parenting stuff!!!


They are almost constantly in front of the tv or the computer, rarely going outside to play unless I keep strongly suggesting it (which I shouldn't be doing)


If they've been limited, that's perfectly normal. Whenever anything is limited people gorge when they get it. They gorge until they "catch up". They gorge until they're certain the limits won't return.


In the time that I've eased up on rules and stuff, their rooms have become disaster zones (with half of my dishes missing in them), They have become rude and they expect to get what they want when they want it. ....


I know I've been guilty of this but it's confusing when people explain why it's good to drop rules but don't add "Don't do it all at once!"


The goal is to live by principles. An easier method of getting to principles from rules is to ask yourself "Why not?" and say yes more rather than, as you found out, basically saying they can do whatever they want.


Your boys' reactions are why people say kids need strict limits! ; -) When limited kids are given no limits they do tend to go wild! But kids who've had no arbitrary limits all along have no more reason to go wild than (reasonable) adults do.


It's as if they see that mom is backing off and they are just testing to see how far they can go before they get me to say no or become angry.


I'd say yes, that's what they're doing. It's a reaction to being limited. It's a reaction to having the limits disappear all of a sudden.


It's also as if they WANT limits and rules and are causing anarchy to get them back.


Yes and no. They aren't used to making decisions for themselves. It's scary and feels like you're saying "Whatever. I don't care what you do."


They may feel like they want the stability of the limits and rules but what they really want is stability. Since their only experience is rules and no rules, they're going to think at least the stability of rules feels good. If you'd only experienced rotten fruit and unripe fruit, you might think unripe was better. But those aren't the only two choices.


Fortunately rules and no rules aren't the only two choices! : -)


I try not to react, or if I do react I just say -- that's not nice, why would you need to talk to me like that???


That statement and question puts them in control. They're feeling upset so maybe their goal is to be not nice! It's natural to be irritable to others when we feel irritable. And it doesn't matter why they're feeling like they need to treat you like that.


Give them information. Stand up for yourself but then move onto meeting their needs. Say in an informational tone, "I don't like to be treated that way, now what is it you want," or, "I can't understand you when you're screaming at me."


Tell them up front this isn't working and you want to find a way to help this work for everyone.


Having all the dishes disappear is a real life limitation. Think about it as a contract. They can eat in their rooms if they bring their dishes back. It's not a rule to be enforced. It's an agreement. You can bring food to them, but then make it your own responsibility to go get the dishes. If they take food to their rooms and can't remember to bring their dishes back, then they need to eat in the kitchen. Unlike a mom-rule it's always open to them trying to live up to the contract if they want to try again.


It might be hard to see how that's different than a rule that says "You can but you broke the rule and now you can't." It isn't a punishment for breaking rules. But it is like the agreements we have in society: If you pay for things then you can take them from the store; if you pass the driver's test then you can drive; if you behave in socially acceptable ways then you can stay in the restaurant.


It might be hard to see how it's different than bribery. "If you do your homework, then you can have an hour of TV." That's using our power to make someone do what we want in exchange for something they want. The two aren't connected. But behaving well in a restaurant is connected with the privilege of eating there.


Sandra Dodd has some good stuff about fighting and peace (and lots of other topics too) at When Siblings Fight.


I saved some of her posts about "if-then" contracts. They're down below.



In the "If-then" section you were talking about just that -- "If-Then" situations, and that made perfect sense to me. But then in a later section (parenting or chores, maybe?) You mention Cake Baking - and how they should be able to bake/make messes/etc if they want, but it would be the Mom's responsibilty to clean it. Why wouldn't that just be part of an "If - then" situation? "If they want to bake a cake, then they would have to do the whole process of cake baking"? My daughter loves to play around in the kitchen, and I always thought of the "clean up" as part of the whole "process of baking", or what-have-you. The cleaning up of making a cake is just part of the whole process of cake making - isn't it? Am I making any sense?


Yes, your question makes perfect sense.


It might help you see it more clearly if you ask yourself what your goal is. Is the goal to have a clean kitchen or the experience of making a cake? If the goal is a clean kitchen, then it's better not to have children! ;-)


Ah, but why can't the goal be both a clean kitchen and a cake?


It can be. But ...


When we have two goals there often comes a time when the two goals conflict: to meet one you need to give up the other. What if your daughter responded to your contract with, "Okay, then I don't feel like making a cake." What will you have gained and what will you have lost? Would you rather when she grew up she had memories of a clean kitchen or a particularly yummy creation?


When I did crafts with my daughter it did always seem as though there was more setting up and cleaning up than crafting :-/ but I realized that if my daughter associated a tedious clean up as a necessary part of crafts, then she'd choose crafts a lot less. And what would I have gained? A neat craft cabinet? What's the point of that!?


That said, clean up can be an organic part of creating. You can say "Could you put the milk back in the refrigerator for me?" and "This goes on the second shelf of the cabinet."


But accept that the clean up is your contribution to helping your daughter explore. It's like the $30 you spend to get into the science center. Would you ask her to pay her part of the admission price? And if she chose not to, what would you have gained?


So rather than thinking about how you can make her clean up, rethink the process of cake baking. What I do is set all the ingredients out in the order the recipe calls for them. I read off the directions a step at a time. When she's done with an ingredient, I put it away. When she's done with a bowl or cup, I put it in the dishwasher. There's still some clean up at the end, but it's a lot less. And since I've focused on trying not to associate helping me with unpleasantness, she is very willing to help me out. (I have certainly not been perfect in not getting upset about clean up! But, though pressuring to clean up lets off steam, I can clearly see it has the opposite effect on my daughter than I want.)



All these responses are by Sandra Dodd.


Well, it worked some nights and not others. They'd be downstairs watching TV and playing games, getting too loud. I'd wake up numerous times through the night, tell them that they are waking me up.


On the second waking-up, if you allowed for a third one they walked over you worse than you would walk over them by setting a by-the-clock bedtime.


A rule that says they can only stay up if they're quiet is NOT an arbitrary rule, it's a for - good - reasons, real deal that they make with you to stay up.


My dh would wake up and turn the tv off and tell them to go to bed, they'd get upset and stomp to their rooms.


One single upset-and-stomp is enough to call the whole deal off, in my opinion. IF they want to go to bed when they want to instead of when you say to, THEN they need to do it without disturbing ANYone else (you, neighbors, the dog ..).


My dh would wake up and turn the tv off and tell them to go to bed, they'd get upset and stomp to their rooms. Sometimes, they'd decide to stay up and go in separate rooms.


At that point, I wouldn't have left it to their decision. If someone was up more than ONCE, turned off a TV and said "go to bed," how was it they decided to stay up?


We've talked during the day about how everyone needs sleep, I will mention I'm grouchy because I'm tired cause I woke up so many times because of the noise. My dh won't have energy to play/roughhouse after work because he's tired from being woken up, too. Not in a condescending mean way, just as the reason why we are not up for something. And not all the time, just when that really is why.


Sounds like you put the kids in charge of the house, but someone is still in charge of the house, and it's not you.


You didn't move toward mindfulness, you threw out rules and the wound-up-kids launched themselves fast and far.


I read how Sandra says "Yes, you can...if you (whatever)". I've told them "you can stay up, if you're quiet". So, my question is, after you talk about why, come up with ideas and they still have a hard time being quiet, what do you do?


Then I tell them to go to bed, and the next night I might (depends on various factors) ask them to just stay in their rooms instead of being in the den or library the next night, so I could make up missed sleep.


If they can be quiet they can stay if they're not quiet, they can't. How do I enforce that? We've said before, "okay you're not being quiet, lights out". But I feel like I'm punishing them.


If they're not keeping their deal, they're not keeping their deal. How is it a punishment if you say If..then and they botch "if"? Then-not should kick in without you even having to say so.


Is that okay because its something we all agreed to?


My kids can stay up because Keith and I said they could. They can go to sleep whenever they want to; we're not MAKING them stay up. But it's our house, and we have more obligations to be places at certain times (except the boys' jobs, now), and we can take back privileges and freedoms we granted. We've rarely done it, but we've never said "Gosh, we don't have the right to tell you what to do." We say "Do your parents' friends let them do X?" The answer's usually "no," and with that reminder they remember to appreciate the VAST freedoms they have.


We've tried talking about it before bed, what will help you be quiet? Lights out and a movie together?


If they can't figure it out, they might not be old enough to make the decision, then.


I really feel like I've tried everything...any advice or suggestions please.




Seriously, they're walking on you.


It was easier for us, starting gradually from birth, but even now, if they wake me up irresponsibly and inconsiderately, I'm not going to ask them any polite questions about what I can do to help them calm down.


I don't wake them up rudely, and because of that they don't wake me up rudely either.


There have been times when there were late night gaming sessions and other kids were over and they'd get loud more than once and I've told them and company too to get to a stopping place and go to sleep (other boys were staying over) and if they woke me up again, the game would have to be at [whichever other kid's] house the next time. They did NOT want to go to the other kids' house, because the mom would've made them stop by midnight and go home, so because they WANTED this location, they got very, very quiet the couple of times I set the ultimatum on them.


ds8, dd6.5, ds3.5,


These kids are very, very young to be letting them stay up. I'd be more likely (especially if they had had bedtimes before) to let them listen to music or watch a movie FROM A BED (floor bed or in a room), or play on the computer, but that would be about all. If you've done it for a year, than means you told a five year old to stay up till whenever? And a seven year old?


There are lots of steps between relaxing arbitrary inflexible rules and having total anarchy.


Deb Lewis

Pondering this a bit more and thought about something else ....during that time when you are still awake and DH and the littlest ones are in bed, are you making it a transitional, gradually quieting down time or is it business as usual, cleaning, talking, playing, etc?



I was thinking last night too, and Deb's ideas are good.


I suppose a big part of why my kids have gone to sleep when sleepy but not been wildly crazy is because every time they stayed up it was a one-shot (in a way, when they were little). They would say they didn't want to go to bed yet, when I was going to sleep with the nursing baby. Nursing a baby to sleep isn't something you have to SAY ("Go to bed.") They Want to nurse, and they fall asleep. Often the older sibling will fall asleep then too, because there's soft music or a book being read, and that's EASY. But when one gets old enough to want to stay up, and you make a deal with him, know what he's going to be doing, and he knows if he isn't cool and mature he might be told no the next time, then he's cool. And gradually from that developed the days when Kirby might still not be home at 3:00 a.m. but I was sure he was being cool and quiet, somewhere, and that he wasn't doing something crazy and irresponsible.


Because it came gradually, there was no celebratory WOOHOO!!!! moment when the old bedtime passed and the child was FREE! Free to celebrate being awake at 11:00 p.m.!!!


So in a small model of exactly WHY it's good to give kids freedoms while they're kids, so that they don't escape their bonds at the age of 18 (or whenever they leave for college or whatever) and fly as far and crazily AWAY from what their families made them do or forbade them to do that they Just Go CRAZY!!!!!!!


To avoid "crazy," they need to be making lots of decisions earlier.


To avoid food binges and irresponsibly rejecting all vegetables and salads because now they don't "HAVE TO" eat them, let them turn them down earlier. Let them eat ice cream for breakfast if they want to now, and they'll probably really never imagine that it might be a cool act of maturity to eat ice cream for breakfast. <g>


To avoid adult avoidance of books and learning, don't make it a powerless kid-thing to "have to" study from books and to prove learning.


It's better for an eight year old to be wild at night than an eighteen year old. But still, if you can make clearest above all else that nighttime needs to be a quiet time, and that they can ONLY stay up if they maintain that quiet, only then can they really start listening to their own bodies to see if they're sleepy. If sleep had been something children "had to" do and now they're told they "don't have to," they're "being adult" by staying up.


Their motive is not to be up because they want to be, but because the gate was lifted and they rushed out.


Also, if he's falling asleep in front of the tv and not getting himself to bed, is he really listening to his body about sleep?


Lots of adults read themselves to sleep, or watch late night TV and turn the TV off when they wake up later. <g> I don't think it's immoral.


When my kids were younger they were quite likely to fall asleep during a movie, on the couch or on a futon in front of the TV. When they got older, 12 and so, they really wanted their own beds, but Holly still falls asleep to a CD, and Kirby has a timer on his TV. Marty used to watch TV, but now just turns the lights off and goes to sleep.


Sandra added this later when she reread her answer:


Now that I see it cold, though, the questioner seems confused about being asleep and going to bed.


This is a perfect example of where principles can change one's view of the world. By "rules," and "bedtime," a person is to be in bed by a certain time, followed as soon as possible by sleep. Then waking up has to do with getting out of bed. If one lives by that rule, bed and sleep are inseparable.


If, though, a family is really looking at *SLEEP* then the bed is just one of many options.


When Kirby was little, we had a crib. We used it less and less as the weeks went by.


When Marty came along, the crib was full of stuffed animals and toys, and Marty slept with us.


By the time we had Holly, the crib had been sold to someone who wanted it because it matched her other furniture. Cool.


Babies all slept in parents' arms, or in bed with mom. Older kids slept in bed with mom, or on a bed in front of the TV, or with dad, or on the top bunk over mom and baby. When we were asked something like "When does Kirby go to bed?" we said "About half an hour after he goes to sleep." Seriously, they would fall asleep near us when they could, and we'd carry them in from the couch, or lap, or carseat. Sleep had to do with sleepiness, and bed came later.


I think Marty only woke up where he had fallen asleep maybe five percent of the time, when he was younger than three.


So if a child falls asleep in front of the TV, he is really listening to his body about sleep.


If a mom thinks that's not listening to his body, I think what she wants him to listen to is the voices of her mother and grandmother saying "Why isn't he in bed?" to her. Luckily, my children can't hear the voices in my head.


There's probably some TV prejudice at work too. If s child fell asleep reading a book, I think parents would be charmed instead of critical.


I said the same thing tonight, and he seemed fine when we made sure we recorded his shows that were on late at night and he would be missing.


That made a big difference with us in lots of ways, recording things. Kids were willing to risk being out of the house "too long" if we had set whichever favorite show to record. And after a while they got to the point they might not even watch the tapes at all (me too, for my own favorites a few years back) and as they got older and more confident there would be reruns (and now, confident they can see it on DVD later), they cared less.


One more thing to throw in -- my DH really does not like it that older DS stays up late -- he feels he misses out on being with my son so much, as DS is usually asleep all morning (my DH is semi-retired, so is home two days of the workweek), and then stays up hours after my DH goes to bed around 10 or 10:30.


Have you talked to your son about that? On the day before his dad's going to be home, do you remind him to go to sleep earlier so he can hang out with his dad?


Also, my DH and I enjoy going to church together, but this is really tough when older DS has been up very late, and then can't/won't get up at 8:30 to get ready for church. He really does not enjoy church right now, but the rest of us do, and one of us ends up having to stay home with older DS.


Can you get someone else to stay with him? If not, I'd just say "Until you're old enough to stay home alone, you need to go with us, because dad really wants to go" And on Saturday night, count back eight hours from when he would need to get up and go to church, and tell him to go to bed then. If he's too sleepy, he'll learn to go to sleep earlier.


If there's something scheduled, that should take priority over sleeping whenever. There ARE reasons to sleep, and reasons sometimes to plan ahead about sleeping.


Maybe you could tell your son that staying up as late as he can is as arbitrary and inflexible as a 9:00 bedtime, and he's disrupting your life the same way a traditional by-the-clock bedtime would disrupt his.


I'm not expecting him to go every Sunday, but once a month would be nice so DH and I could go together.


"Would be so nice" sounds so wistful for a thing you should JUST DO, I think.


It seems that making dibs on certain things you REALLY want to do as a couple or as a family and telling him he just needs to go with you is not at ALL unreasonable. Does he have scheduled things he goes to? (Lessons, scouts, something you always take him to?) He shouldn't leave you hanging until the last minute and have control of whether you get to go or not. You wouldn't do that to him, would you?


Did I yank back his self-regulating bedtime too abruptly, and should I let go of that again, or would it be best to go with the bedtime for a while, see how the recording of shows, tooth brushing, etc., goes, then gradually let go of the bedtime (even if that is over the next couple of years?)


It seems to me more than just a question of sudden or gradual. I don't think moving to unschooling gradually is a good idea when the question involves reading lessons or a curriculum or forced math. But in either case, I don't think the parents (or ANY adults) should do something so drastic without really understanding it themselves.


In the early stage of the idea of relaxing bedtimes, I think it starts with people coming to discussions like these all tense and frustrated because they can't control their kids, and saying "How can I make them go to bed on time?" And the questions and suggestions might involve "Why?" or "You don't HAVE to have a time," or "Which is more important -- rules or your relationship?" All those ideas are good to consider, but to just register "some people don't have a bedtime" and declaring that now YOU don't have a bedtime seems to me to be replacing one "rule" with another.


Your rule now seems to be that parents won't tell your older child when to go to sleep. His "right" to stay up is the priority, more important than church, more important than being with his dad.


(On the other hand, does his dad do cool things with him on those days home? To expect a child to be up and available just in case dad takes the notion to hang out with him doesn't seem sufficient reason to get up.)


Our staying up always involved the child being old enough to stay up safely and quietly, or staying awake, but being in a bed (or having the bed all made and available and close by) and having a long video and some drinks and snacks at hand.



Sandra Dodd continued ...


I went to look at the sleeping page to see what I had put there that was causing so much grief. The first bit [when this was written] is Nancy K./aisliin who had done a point-by-point to someone on the Always Learning list, and I saved it. Maybe as a lead article there it's a little strong. <g>


With anything, if a family moves from rules (about food, freedoms, clocks, what to wear) to something new there's going to be the backlash, and thinking of catapults (or trebuchets, more technically, or of a rubber band airplane, or other crank-it-up projectile vs ...) the more pressure that's built up, the further that kid is going to launch if you let it go all at once.


In the absence of pressure in the first place, there's no reaction to resistance. My kids didn't WANT to stay up all night, because they were used to going to sleep happily and peacefully since before they could remember. That doesn't mean they were used to never being "put to bed" in their whole lives, it means going to bed had to do with real and variable factors, but there were principles behind it. Bed was about sleeping, not about control or punishment or discipline or schedules. Sleeping was a cool, desirable thing that adults liked to do.


Some kids never see adults sleep. They are "put to bed" by adults (scary adults who turn the lights off and say "STAY IN THE BED" sometimes) and then they wake up to the faces of adults who probably (to them) seem to have been awake all the whole time. That's one way "family bed" arrangements add to peace and togetherness -- the kids KNOW other people sleep, and they learn to help the other people sleep comfortably.


Some unschoolers are more radical than I am. That's okay, but here's an example of a radical Nancy K. response <bwg>:


[someone once wrote: It is not against the unschooling train of thought to insist that your children be in their rooms by a certain time each night.]


Nancy K.

If Unschooling (damned insufficient word) is a lifestyle choice, NOT an educational style, per se; then I disagree with this statement."Insisting" that the kids be banished to their rooms after a certain time, on room arrest as it were, regardless of their wills, desires, or plans for the evening, is not respectful of them as people. Treating kids as second class citizens and subservient members of the family, subject to your whims, is not in sync with an "unschooling train of thought." Saying that you "insist" in the first place implies that you have some leverage you are using in order to bend them to your will. How will that be accomplished in a respectful and unschooly manner?



I think she was responding to "insist." But honestly, parents DO have leverage to bend children to their will. If children have freedom to choose, it's because the parents GIVE them that freedom, because they have the power to give it to them.


For a parent to absolutely decide that he will never "insist" is going way too far, I think. Not only could it be, in some cases, illegal and neglectful, if the parent isn't even clear on what her duties and responsibilities are as a parent, maybe she isn't thinking clearly about other things, either.


If I let Kirby make the decision about something every single time, thousands of times, still I LET him, because the state, the county, and the people around me expect me to make that decision. I delegated. I can't say "It's none of my business, he can do what he wants" to people outside the family, because it makes me look clueless and unconcerned.


If Keith lets me decide how to spend money and doesn't make me check with him before I buy a DVD or some expensive groceries or clothes for the kids, that's cool. He lets me know when it's a really bad month to spend money. The fact that he doesn't check doesn't mean it would be okay for me to buy a Bentley or to charge tickets for a cruise. If I asked in advance about doing that, he would insist (if he weren't insane) that I NOT do that, because we really can't afford it. I live my life in such a way that Keith doesn't have to insist that I do something different. We've moved gradually from the point that we consulted about $30 purchases (when we were young and not both employed, or one or both in college) to where now he might buy a power tool and tell me later, or I put a $300 eBay bid on a $1500 microscope without asking (I didn't get it, but he wouldn't have freaked out if I had).


If a child goes from a 9:00 bedtime to staying up until midnight DOING something, that's not too bad. If the jump is to staying up until 3:00 by any possible means just to do it, that's not so cool.


I need Joyce-logic summary, I think. <g> Or any help making this point, please!


When I was a kid I would stay out until I "had" to be home. My kids come back when they're through doing what they're doing.


I didn't NEED a "thing" to do to be away from home. I would just kill time being gone. My kids have never felt the need to do that. Being home isn't a bad thing to be avoided.


That's the parallel that worked with food and bed and reading and all kinds of learning, too. But somewhere in there is the tension (good tension, not emotional distress) that kept it all together and nobody was wound up and launched away from the cooperative togetherness.


Another episode, DS is now choosing to stay up very late (way past us guessing 3:00 a.m. or so) and is sleeping past noon. When we wake him for his horseback riding lesson he is angry that he has been woken.


He's only five. He might not have the ability to plan for a horseback lesson, so on those night when he has to go to a lesson, figure out how he can get eight hours sleep. But unless he really experiences exhaustion, he might not believe you. Sleepiness isn't as bad as arguing.


But as to waking him up, maybe start earlier and give him a warning that you need to wake him up again in ten minutes if he falls asleep. Sometimes it helps if there are good food smells or happy music.


Now dh and I are wondering if we are doing the wrong thing allowing him to choose when he is sleeping half the day and so cranky.


I think you're seeing it as only two extreme options: You control it or he chooses. Nowhere in those two do I see principles at work instead of rules.


Sleep has a purpose. Commitments are important.


The "rule" shouldn't be he can stay awake as long as he wants to. That doesn't make a lot of sense, if he has somewhere to be the next morning. Keep discussing what needs to be done so he can help make GOOD decisions, and not make his decisions simply on what feels good to him in that instant.


I think I got my answer to that question when my younger DS said, "but you said we could do whatever we wanted to do"


Betsy Hill

My answer would include "... as long as you are considerate of other people."


Being able to see things from the point of view of a different person is a skill that some kids develop earlier than others. Practice probably helps. Perhaps if a child is too young to understand how other people feel when they are woken up (or other problems), they are too young to make some of these behavior choices independently.


Even older kids and teenagers need guidance from parents.



My son 18..has this annoying habit of leaving food in his room. I have asked him many, many, times to please respect our home and not do that..due to the fact that we will get ants. We have had ants come in the house due to food in his room. I put out ant bait traps all the time outside, but we have animals in our home, so I wont leave ant traps out in our home...we have a tiny kitten at the moment too, and she will get into everything !!!


Sandra Dodd

I have two teen boys. What I think I would do in that situation would be say he could stay home IF he would not leave food in his room. And ask him to call you before he leaves (if that's doable, if you have a phone with you) and when he calls ask him if he took all his dishes out of his room.


As it is, I just don't care. It's easier to soak the dried up food out of dishes than to nag. We don't get ants in the house, not counting near the cat food sometimes in mid summer. It's always Kirby who leaves dishes, never Holly or Marty.


Syl, maybe your house is on an ancient ant-queen burial ground. <g> I'd spray around the foundation of the house with serious ant spray every week or so early in the summer. If you can't afford professional spray, they sell some at Lowe's that works really well.


If we did have an ant or mouse problem as some people do and if I had a kid who repeatedly left food out, I'd say "Don't eat in your room, because you'll get ants." I would go for the first pass problem, which is the food going in there in the first place.


With my kids it's always been "YES you can do that, if..." and because there was an initial condition, they take it as a privilege that has a condition.


They can stay up late if they're quiet. They can leave without permission (now that they're older) if they leave a good note and we know where they're going. (They rarely ever do that -- they come and ask, and see what they might need to know like what the rest of us are doing, or which car they should or shouldn't take, which is mature and civilized of them.)



I've also experienced enough times, a store employee telling my son to stop doing something when IMO it wasn't a safety issue, that i think it becomes sort of a discrimination-against-kid-behavior issue.


Pam Sorooshian

Even when it IS a possible safety issue, sometimes employees address it in unnecessarily aggressive anti-kid kinds of ways.


I think "they don't want you to do that here" is a perfectly good reason for a parent to give a kid. We don't need to really know WHY they don't want us to do it -- it is THEIR property, not ours. If a kid asks why they don't want him to do it, we can speculate that they're worried (perhaps needlessly, but still worried) about his safety or that maybe a kid got hurt and they got sued before or that they've HEARD that when kids get hurt parents often sue and so on. It could be a worthwhile conversation -- but, ultimately, the real answer is that whether or not we agree there is a safety issue and even if we know WE would never sue them, they are the management and if they don't want us to do that there, we can either go somewhere else or abide by their wishes.


I don't let the neighbor kids get in and out of the pool, when they're swimming at our house. I don't let them get out and jump back into the pool -- even though I know this is fun. I'm not a big mean controlling parent with rules for no reason who likes to have power kids. And when it is only my own kids in the pool, they can do what they want. But it is MY house and my pool and I'm letting them swim here and I want them to just stay in the pool. It is nerve-wracking for ME when they're out on the deck and jumping in -- I don't enjoy myself, I get more stressed, this is MY issue but so what? I'm "the management" and if kids want to know why I have this rule, it is hard to explain about MY psychological processes -- how do I tell a five- year-old that he gets to swim at my house FAR


If you think an employee is enforcing a rule that the store management would NOT agree with, then by all means complain to the store management. But if a kid is climbing a store ladder, I bet the store management is going to say they don't want him to do that. They might cite safety issues, but it might just be that they just don't like it. They get to decide -- they're the "management." If WE think the management of a store is so unfriendly to kids that we don't want our kids exposed to it, then we can shop without our kids or shop somewhere else. And we can complain to management about employees who behave rudely to our kids, especially if it is in a place where kids are presumably welcome (like a kids' museum, etc.).


At HOME, we get to decide how much freedom our kids will have. People here argue that there are wonderful benefits of giving kids FAR more freedom than typical/conventional parents. And we can find ways to give our kids more freedom outside our homes, too, especially by finding friends who share our parenting philosophies and spending lots of time in kid-friendly places. But there are people who are handicapping their kids by NOT helping them understand that life will be more difficult for them if they don't learn to discern when and where to insist on "their way" and when to abide by other peoples' wishes.


These aren't moral or ethical choices -- I mean, there ARE times to stand up to authorities even WHEN they are "in charge" -- there are most definitely times to refuse to abide by management's desires. Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat is a perfect example. In 1966 or so, my dad was working on getting financing for a customer of his (my dad owned an industrial building construction company) when he suddenly realized that his bank was engaging in outright discrimination against the customer because of his race. My dad could have said, "Well, it is their bank," but he didn't -- he asked to speak to the bank manager and closed his multi- million dollar business accounts with that bank, on the spot. And he reported them to various agencies.


So there are times to take a stand and refuse to go along with other people's desires/rules/etc! But life is smoother and happier when people accept that there are times to respect other peoples' rights to be seemingly arbitrary in their OWN spheres of control. When this doesn't involve any kind of moral/ethical/right versus wrong/serious compromise of standards -- then creating harmony and happiness and peace in the world is ALSO valuable and worthwhile.


I've noticed that some who love the whole radical unschooling/respectful parenting approach can really go too far -- maybe it is those who felt extremely controlled as a kid, themselves, and are saying, "I'm NOT doing that to my kid and I'm not going to let anybody ELSE do it to my kid, either." Which is good -- I'm glad there are so many of us who are finding ways to give our kids so much more freedom! But I see a "defiance" sometimes -- like they've not let go of the "rigidity" of the controlling parenting style -- but they're applying that "rigidity" to making sure their kid doesn't get controlled in any way by anybody. In a way, those parents are still BEING controlled -- if they are still reacting "against" the way they were raised. It is possible to move beyond that -- to even more mindful parenting which will be less hostile, less defensive, calmer, more peaceful, and allow for sometimes going along with controls and not feeling "bristly" over things like a grocery store employee asking kids not to climb on the store ladder.


I think that also there is a further and higher level of trust in our children that we can reach, as well, if we've protected and respected them when they were little and helped them learn how to respond to other people being arbitrary and controlling, then we don't have to constantly be on guard to create a world/environment around them that is absolutely respectful and courteous and never arbitrary -- at least, as they get older, they'll be able to appropriately respond to it themselves and make their own decisions about going along or not.


For example, if we're talking about a 3 year old climbing on a store ladder, the parent might hug the child sweetly while removing him from the steps and give him a kiss and say, "They don't want us to climb their ladder in this store," and move quickly on to, "Hey do you want to pick out cereal?" If we're talking about a 5 year old, the parent might say, "I know you're a safe ladder climber, but they don't know that here, so that's why they don't want you to climb -- makes them too nervous. But, hey, when we get home do you want to get our BIG ladder out and climb up it?" If we're talking to a 9 year old, we might have a more indepth conversation about arbitrary rules and why stores have them and it might get into lawsuits and how some people will sue for anything and what happens to prices because of that and on and on. If we're talking about a 13 year old, depending on the kid, the parent might not say a word, just let the kid decide how to respond. If the employee is rude, then I do think it is appropriate for a parent to say, "No need to be rude," or something like that. When the kids are getting up into their teens, I do think the parents should, at that point, more and more trust their kids to decide if they want to address rudeness or arbitrariness or whatever, not do it "for" them, even if it annoys the parent. This comes up because teens DO quite often get spoken to rudely by people "in authority" and I know I "bristle" -- it brings back my own teen years of being treated less than respectfully. But I think my kids have the right to decide if this is a time that they want the rudeness addressed or not -- so I will sometimes bite my tongue and let it slide. The kids know my urge to "protect their environment" is still strong and sometimes they'll even say, quietly, "It is okay, mom, just ignore it." BUT, they will also sometimes ask me to step in -- as Roya did at the City Museum in St. Louis when an employee was very rude to her and some other kids. She knows that if she asks, that I will try to at least lodge a complaint about that employee -- assuming that if there are enough complaints that something will be done.


Anyway -- it is a balance we all have to find and well worth discussing. Interesting how the issue doesn't really disappear as the kids grow up, it changes form but we continue to deal with it.



Doesn't it go against the principle of not limiting them and their freedom to restrain them in carts if they don't want to be? Just confused.


Sandra Dodd

No one has unlimited freedom. You don't own the store.


Giving children choices isn't the same as saying "If he wants an airplane, buy him one. If he wants to fly it without a license, let him!"


Find happy, possible choices and offer them to your child smilingly, joyfully. Don't make up "have to's" but don't ignore the ones that are imposed from the outside.


If you "have to" wear shoes in a restaurant, it means that's a condition of staying in the restaurant. If you CHOOSE to be in the restaurant, then you choose to abide by their requirements.


Don't replace an old rule you didn't think about carefully with a new rule you didn't think about carefully.


Please read Living by Principles instead of by Rules. Even if you read it before, now that you've gone out in public and come back confused, maybe some things will jump out at you that you didn't care about or understand before. Read what Ben wrote. Read what Danielle wrote.


Ren Allen

I think it goes against the principle of treating others kindly to let kids run wild through a store!! We aren't doing our children any favors if we don't help them figure out etiquette and respect for the common good in public places.


If my children can't handle shopping, I don't take them. Freedom is a lot more than doing whatever you want, whenever you want. Constraint and creative solutions are GOOD. Real life offers real limitations that are sometimes for the common good. Helping children work within those real limitations is better than letting them run wild where it isn't appropriate!!


Sandra Dodd

[In the store] they found it funnier and more interesting to start yelling "Nipple, nipple!" loudly back and forth to each other and laughing about it, than to pick out their clothes. Now i have no problem with the fact than my sons find the idea of nipples funny, but i have explained to them the purpose nipples serve repeatedly and that it isn't appropiate to do things like that in public.


The purpose nipples serve isn't important at a time like that. <g>


I tell my kids it's not nice to make others feel uncomfortable. That covers lots of things, and they started early on figuring out what kinds of things were "cheating" in shared spaces like theaters, stores, restaurants. They were all games-playing kids, so speaking in terms of taking turns and not messing up the game made sense to them. Not sitting so close you could see other people's cards was kind of like giving people their space at restaurants. Don't lean over and stare at their food, for instance. It wouldn't be nice at a gaming table.


So with an analogy or two you might avoid lots of lists of "rules" or things not to do. The principle of sharing spaces politely pretty much covers it.



Joyfully Rejoycing
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