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Friday, May 20, 2011

Raising the Bar for Babies: Part 3 of 4

Age-Appropriate Rules
By Guest-Blogger Tet George
A primary way we need to raise the bar for our older babies and toddlers is through age-appropriate rules. Rules provide boundaries for your kids, give them ample opportunity to practice obedience and respect for authority, and also help develop character qualities like orderliness, responsibility, and self-control. By implementing and enforcing reasonable rules in your household, you can create an environment where chaos is not a given, even with very small children. Some may consider me a mommy nazi, but my husband and I have chosen our rules with care, keeping in mind the powerful role rules play as part of our kids’ “holiness training.” As we teach and enforce these rules, we always reinforce the crucial concept of authority: Mommy and Daddy are in charge. Just as we are under God’s authority, He has placed you under our authority, living in our house, and using our stuff.
The specific rules you establish will obviously depend a lot from home to home, but to give some concrete examples, here is a list of some of our family rules. To provide some context, Baby Bettis was obeying these with only periodic verbal reminders by about one year old:
-Eating is only done in the kitchen while sitting in an appropriate chair. This is true even if other people are eating in the living room.
- Even if food is within your reach, you must ask permission for it. You never help yourself to food. (This rule is particularly important because my son has a life-threatening allergy, but I plan to enforce it with all of our kids.)
-At meal time, you eat whatever Mommy or Daddy makes without complaint. If you refuse to eat it, we will be glad to serve you the same food later when you change your mind. (Sound harsh? Believe me- even a willful child will cave when actual hunger kicks in.)
-There is a specified place for your sippy cup on a level you can reach in the kitchen. You can drink at that spot while standing and then return the drink promptly to that spot. You may not walk around with your drink.
-You are never to touch any electronics/technology… no remote controls, no TVs, no cell phones, no computers, car keys/fabs, etc. These are adult privileges.
-Unless a cabinet or drawer is filled with toys, you do not open it. All other cabinets and drawers are for Mommy and Daddy only.
-The baby equipment is for babies. You do not climb on or touch buttons on the swing, bouncer, etc.
-Treat your toys with respect. Do not throw any toys that are not intended to be thrown. Do not step on toys or books.
-You may play with all of your board books in your basket by yourself. The paper books are behind the couch (within your reach) but you must ask Mommy and Daddy to read those books with you.
- You may only climb the steps when Mommy or Daddy is with you. You do not climb the steps by yourself.
-TV and movies are special privileges. We sit down and focus when we are watching TV. If you start to walk around or stop paying attention, it will be turned off. The TV is not background noise.
- You may use crayons with permission from Mommy. You do not touch pens, pencils, or markers.
-Sometimes Mommy and Daddy have privileges that you do not. Sometimes the answer will be “no” if you ask to eat, drink, play with, or touch something that is only for grown-ups.
I started implementing these rules, and some additional ones that were more specific to my house (no toys on the piano keys, etc), as soon as my son was capable of eating, drinking, and moving somewhat independently. It’s important to remember that you create your child’s “normal” so these rules have never seemed restrictive or over the top to him. Our rules have allowed me to maintain an orderly environment even with a small, clumsy, messy kid.
And the perks are many—because my son is used to these rules, they are surprisingly transferable to other environments and homes. No matter who I am visiting, I can immediately establish a bench or chair in a friend’s kitchen where his drink will stay while we visit, and he doesn’t expect to carry (and spill) his cheerios around the house. Because he knows not to touch technological devices, I don’t have to worry that he’ll unlock my friend’s car while he’s out of my sight, send a strange text message to one of her coworkers, or shut down her computer. In short, he understands that there will always be some objects and privileges that are simply off limits to him.
Because I’ve established rules that lend themselves to treating objects and property with respect, it’s also far easier to take my kids to houses or events that are not baby-proofed or catered to small ones. This freedom enables me to have a social sphere outside of families within our exact stage of life.
Some of these rules may seem unnecessary, especially if you’re someone who isn’t bothered by minor spills around the house or a child controlling the TV. But at a toddler’s developmental level, these rules are as significant as a 10:00pm curfew would be to a teenager. They require the toddler to submit and obey in spite of his very strong instinct to touch that blinking button or sneak upstairs when you’re not looking. Each time your toddler resists an impulse, even if he only submits out of fear of the consequence if he doesn’t, he is practicing and learning to exercise self-control.
If you establish early that you will enforce the rules every time there is an infraction, soon the child will need only gentle verbal reminders of the rule. Every time your crawler goes to touch the TV power button, you physically move her away and say a firm “No.” If you have a strong-willed child who will test the boundary repeatedly, you need to commit yourself to respond with the appropriate enforcement or discipline every time. The specific method of discipline you prefer matters much less than your commitment to enforcing it. Establishing your authority involves showing that you will follow through on your word.
Perhaps the biggest upshot of these simple rules is that my son is secure and happier because of them! Almost any literature about child development will tell you that small children need consistency and limits to thrive. There’s a reason your 10-month-old will reach out for an electrical outlet and look at your face to see your reaction. Your child wants to know what to expect and what is allowed. My son understands our rules, but sometimes he will still run into the living room holding his sippy cup and look at me. All I have to say is “Please put that back where it belongs.” He runs back into the kitchen to replace it, and the rule is reinforced in his mind.
Sometimes Bubs will start a tickle fight and suddenly Baby Bettis will very intentionally grab my husband’s glasses off his face. Even though they’re having fun, Bubs breaks from the giggles to seriously address the infraction: “You may not touch my glasses. Do not do that again.” Baby Bettis says “Ok, Daddy” and before I know it, little legs are flying and shrieks fill our living room. Lesson learned: the rules apply even when we’re having fun. His world is predictable and safe. A few minutes later, he is sprinting through the house holding his football and yelling “touchdown!” A stifled and restricted toddler? Nope, a happy-go-lucky rascal who feels secure in his predictable and appropriately limited world.

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