Why Rules Feed Resistance and Agreements Build Respect

Mom and SonQ. I’ve been a long time subscriber and benefitted on how to handle parenting issues mostly when my kids were very young. Now my son has turned 18 and feels entitled to stay out as long as he wants. For me and my husband, we still think that house rules apply but I’m finding it very difficult to give logical reasons why my son should abide by some rules when my husband does the exact same thing. Is there any better way to handle this or what reasons will be valid in this situation?

A. The reason you are having a hard time coming up with logical reasons is because there are none when it comes to holding authority over your 18 year old. He should be in a place by now where he has authority over himself. That comes from slowly and gradually pulling back your authority from your child as he becomes able to handle things on his own.

Children live with parents for as long as they do because of all the things they must do that they don’t want to do and shouldn’t be expected to want to do because they are kids. It is our job to get our children to brush their teeth, go to bed at a reasonable time, eat healthy foods, go to school, doctor appointments, etc. until they are capable of doing them on their own. Capable means “able to achieve efficiently whatever one has to do; competent”. Until then, it’s our job to insure they are done.

As our children grow, some necessities become habit and they develop motivation to do certain things. For example, wanting to go to school so they don’t make their workload tougher, or wanting to take showers. This happens at different times for different children. As this happens, parents must slowly and gradually withdraw their authority handing it over to their children and allowing natural consequences to take over. So, by the time they are ready to leave home, they have fully absorbed personal authority and self-confidence.

I like to think in terms of making agreements rather than rules. The idea of rules provokes resistance in many kids who will make a point of not following them unless afraid of a consequence. Rules require holding power over your child. You must follow the rule I have decided on (or else). Power is not something you want to hold over your children. It does not encourage respect; only fear. That goes for most any age child. Asking their participation encourages cooperation.

Rules work in the greater community because of the numbers of people. School must have rules because of the number of children who must work as a community. Road rules must be enforced for the safety of the community. But home is where you build a foundation of personal authority, respect and consideration.

Mom and SonsIf your son has been respected by you and thus is respectful of you, it is consideration in your relationship that will manage his personal life. In my opinion, by 18 he is entitled to stay out as late as he wants. By this time, most everything should be his decision. You can tell him that you have a hard time getting to sleep when he is out because you worry. That is your problem not his. In a strong relationship you ask for his consideration of your problem. 

Making an agreement is then the best way of handling the problem. You might ask him when he plans on being home. If it’s going to be very late, perhaps a call or text around your bedtime letting you know where he is and that he is fine will help you relax. You can work out with him what will be okay for both of you. Telling him he must be home by a certain time will not encourage his consideration of your needs.

Use Problem Solving instead of Rules

Setting rules means telling your kids they must do it your way. And if they don’t then you must use a punitive measure to ensure the rule is followed. This puts children in a powerless position, which is more likely to provoke resistance, disrespect or learned helplessness. Some grow a dependence on others making decisions for them if they were not allowed to make decisions for themselves. It may establish obedience but obedience is not respect.

Problem solving means working out a problem together. When you state your problem and concerns, and your child states hers, this leads to negotiating that continues until an agreement is reached that works for both of you. All parties are equal and active in making the agreement. The parent does not tell the child what to do. No one likes that—especially an 18 year old. 

Mom and SonWhen you have a considerate, respectful relationship that comes from years of problem solving instead of holding power over a child, by the time the child is 18, you will have mutual consideration and respect. He will let you know what his plans are and you can state your problem if you have one. He is far more likely to be considerate of that problem when there is no rule telling him what he can and cannot do.

When this connected relationship exists, there is no need for curfews. Agreements are made on a case-by-case basis as the situation requires. The agreement must work for all. If what your child wants is not okay with you, your answer is, “That doesn’t work for me. Let’s figure out something else.” When your child is an active part of decision making, she will learn the responsibility of making good decisions far earlier than if she is told what to do.

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