Which Rules Should Change as Children Age?

It is important to set boundaries for children.  They need to know what behavior is not considered acceptable at home, in school and all other settings.  I often speak to parents about the importance of being consistent.  A rule will not be a rule for long if you make exceptions and the consequences for crossing the boundary aren’t the same every time. A child who hits another child with a toy needs to know that every time that happens, play will stop.  The child needs to know that the behavior will elicit the same response every time.  Children should know from the time that they are very young that hurting other people will never be allowed.  Destroying property will never be allowed.  There are other rules, however, that need to change with time.

Some rules are age specific and some are situational.  Some rules become a matter of habit or convenience and it isn’t until children complain that we even consider changing them.  Confidence, trust and independence are gained if we reflect on our routines and adjust our rules to show our children that we know they are growing, maturing and can handle slightly wider boundaries.  Some of the age specific or situational rules in your home may be:

  • Bedtime – The time a 4 year old should go to bed and the time an 8-10 year old should go to bed can certainly differ.  I was listening to a conversation between two parents in a store.  One mother told the other that all three of her children go to bed at the same time because otherwise the younger children cry about it being unfair.  With age comes added responsibility and with added responsibility can come more privilege. It is a lesson about how the world really works.  People with more responsibility at work usually are paid more and get more benefits.  When you get to their age or their level, so will you.
  • Homework Time – When children first start to get homework in the early grades, some parents make a rule that they must come home and do their homework before anything else.  As children age and have more complex information & experiences to process during their day, it can actually be beneficial to set a different time rule.  Giving children 30-45 minutes to separate from their day, recharge and then start their homework may make homework time more productive.  Taking time to process your day before the next task is a life skill that so many of us don’t learn until we are exhausting ourselves.  We can teach our children to pace themselves and still meet their responsibilities.
  • Time with Friends – Socialization time is important at every age.  Children need to spend years interacting with others in order to negotiate the world by themselves as they get older.  They need practice interacting, experiencing the reactions of others and finding their place among their peers.  When they are early learners, parents schedule play dates.  If you know the family well enough, those playdates don’t always need to include you.  Children gain confidence in themselves when they go to a friend’s house without parents and enjoy the experience.  Soon, children start to request their own play dates and parents start to set time limits.  As the children get older, those time limits and the time to return home need to slowly expand within reason.  From your children’s point of view, you are demonstrating that you know they can handle more, you trust them and you don’t need to hover.
  • Technology – Your children are technological natives.  Technology is simply a part of their world.  It is how they will research, do school work, spend leisure time and communicate. It is important that children today grow up to be proficient at using all forms of technology and know its benefits as well as its pitfalls.  They need to grow up knowing, for example, that social media is a great way to stay in touch with family but beware of strangers.  They need to understand that technology is an amazing tool for research and communication but they do not need to use it to reveal everything about themselves.  As children get older and technology continues to advance in its scope and capabilities, it will become more and more difficult to restrict its use.  It is important that the generations of technological immigrants, those of us who did not grow up with it, help to guide our children and not deny its role.  It is here to stay so let’s teach children to use it responsibly like we do so many other things.

As your children proceed through elementary school and march through their pre-teen and teen years, remember that your goal as a parent is to teach them to leave you.  They need to be able to make decisions, take on increasing responsibility and function without you someday.  When young adults go to college, you do not want this to be their first experience with looser boundaries.  It needs to be a gradual experience so that college is the next logical step and not a dive off of the helicopter parenting cliff.  Parents needs to consistently consider the boundaries, rules and levels of responsibility as they raise children.
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