Rules Schmules

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about rules vs. principles. Though this isn’t obviously “unschooling” in that it’s not education-related, it is something that nearly all unschoolers practice. I watched Sandra Dodd’s comments on this on the website for Unschooling: The Movie (see video below), and then read some more thoughts by The Whole Mama on her blog.  My husband and I have had lots of discussions about how we are and will be implementing this concept into our parenting practices.

The basic idea is this: teach/coach kids to live by principles instead of rules.  They need to learn the whole idea, not just the specific iterations of it. For example, instead of just making them stay out of the street when they play (which is a rule that can change depending on whose house they’re at, if the street is closed, if parents are in the street also, etc), teach them about safety and show them how difficult it is for drivers to see little kids.  Help them to make their own decision to stay out of the street.

Today I went to a one-year old’s birthday party and these thoughts about principles vs. rules were reignited.  After we left, I turned to Josh and said, “There were a lot of parents using rules instead of principles at that party.” It was so frustrating to watch how most of my friends deal with their kids. They are constantly repeating themselves, and essentially setting up arbitrary lines that their kids aren’t allowed to cross. And then wondering why those kids have to toe the line, or often run right over it. These children have absolutely no idea why a rule has been laid down. I mean, if I told you, “Don’t play in the rocks,” and all you wanted to do was play in the rocks, what would stop you?  Would it stop you if I said, “If you step in the rocks, you’ll get a time out”?  Wouldn’t you, as this particular child did, walk right up to the rocks, look at your parents and step your foot right onto the rocks? It’s human nature. And it’s definitely the nature of children.

But, if instead you were told that there was broken glass in the rocks and you could get hurt very badly and that I love you too much to watch you get hurt, so it would be best if you played on the grass, do you think you’d still be tempted to play in the rocks? Well, maybe a little, but certainly I would have conveyed what the principle is and you would understand why you get in trouble if you do venture back out on the rocks.

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2 Comments on "Rules Schmules"


  1. [...] Gabby cussed out the principal for being a hard-ass (side note: the principal loved RULES, see previous post on…

  2. [...] you have actual, legitimate reasons for your actions, reactions, habits, discipline, and rules (or principles).  And make sure your child…

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