It’s a funny thing how my children are programmed when it comes to playing with a muktzah toy on Shabbat. They know it is not permitted and they would not dare test those waters. But, when it comes to bedtime, curfew, or other household rules, they are somehow less inclined, in general, to abide. It’s as if there is a barrier between the fourth and fifth commandments (remember Shabbat and honor your father and mother.)
My children know that on Shabbat I would never say, “Okay, you can watch TV for just five minutes,” or “Sure, you can color one picture.” It’s an absolute no-no, and I am always consistent with this prohibition. It appears, however, that perhaps I am not so consistent with some of my other rules, as I occasionally find myself saying, “Fine, you can stay up for 10 more minutes.”
Are my children so astute that they have already formulated a differentiation between the two categories of rules in our household? One set of rules that are non-negotiable and others that have some flexibility and wiggle room. I think they have!
Parenting is a journey and it’s never too late to get a little refresher course in this area. If you are inconsistent about enforcing your rules, your kids will learn to follow them only some of the time. Parents often follow a pattern of parenting where they act leniently and then suddenly get upset when they have had enough and decide to be strict. If you have a rule in your home, it needs to be enforced all the time. Being consistent is the golden rule. But it is not easy.
One area of consistency that I have found particularly challenging is the notion of consequences or reprimanding misbehavior. If ever my perfect angels did something that warranted a punishment, I found it very difficult to think of an appropriate consequence in the heat of the moment. So, I instituted an allowance system in my home. All my children receive a weekly allowance in return for performing various chores or responsibilities around the house, in addition to overall respectful behavior. If, for example, my son failed to make his bed one morning (this is no major crime), in order to be consistent with my message I can deduct a quarter or some other trivial amount. This way I never have to think of a consequence on the fly. The allowance serves as both the incentive and disincentive. It is the reward and the negative consequence.
Setting finite rules in our household also created an environment where I don’t always have to say “no.” Children eventually become immune to that two letter word if it is said too often. They naturally test boundaries, so setting up rules and explaining them helps eliminate their need to push the limit.
Being consistent means that we as parents also have to model the behavior we expect from our children. This seems obvious, but whether it is saying “please” and “thank you” or whether it is really sticking to “I’ll be there in five minutes,” we have to show our children that we mean what we say.
Living by the rules actually gives children emotional support and spiritual tools to help them succeed when they enter the real world. Being consistent in our parenting techniques is no easy task but it really is the key to happy, healthy children. Now, if only I wasn’t too tired to walk my 5-year-old daughter back into her own room after she crawls into my bed in the middle of the night. Baby steps….
P’nina Seplowitz lives in Bergenfield with her husband and their three children. She is actively involved in the community and works as the VP of Sales & Marketing for an online magazine subscription company. P’nina recently authored her first book of juvenile fiction and hopes to release her second publication before the summer.
By P’nina Seplowitz