Category Archives: Rules vs Agreements

Dialogue: The Heart of New School Parenting

Dialogue: The Heart of New School Parenting

Parent-child dialogue is the heart and soul of my New School approach to how to be a parent. The love a parent has for a child is expressed and embodied in how the parent communicates with the child, even when the child is a newborn. Obviously, dialogue entails listening as well as talking, and it includes all non-verbal communication as well. There are many skills involved in having a good dialogue, and as parents we are illustrating and teaching them to our children in everything we say and do.

In the New School approach to parenting, we recognize and accept the fact that control of children’s behavior is a delusion. We cannot control our children’s behavior. (See my “Volcano Theory.”) They have free will. We do not have a remote control to their brain. They are not robots or slaves. They talk to us when they want to talk, not necessarily when we want them to talk.

Consequently we are convinced that we are better off not even trying to control their behavior through the Old School use of power and control tactics, like our parents used (yelling, ordering, bossing, threatening, punishing, spanking, hitting, grounding, etc). We recognize these as invitations to trouble. We acknowledge that the best we can get from our children, and what we really want from them, is their cooperation, based on dialogue and agreements, rather than their obedience to rules that we impose. If they don’t want to talk, we realize we cannot force them to.

Influence Does Not Equal Control

In the New School approach to parenting, we acknowledge that while we have absolutely no control over our children’s behavior, but only over our own, we also acknowledge that we have tremendous influence on our children’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior. We acknowledge that influence does not equal control. Continue reading

A New School Approach to Family Rules

A New School Approach to Family Rules

What is discipline? In Latin, it means “teaching” and also “learning.” In the “Old School” style of parenting, it was commonplace for parents to teach by making up the rules of the house, and “laying down the law.” Kids were expected to obey, to conform, to learn by doing what they were told. And when they disobeyed, children were “disciplined”–they were punished. Discipline meant punishment. By and large, that discipline system worked pretty well in our families, didn’t it?

New School Approach to “How to Be a Parent”

What I call my “New School” approach to discipline in the family might at first sound too lenient, but it is not. That is the idea of “agreements” replacing the idea of “rules.” Agreements are bilateral–that is, both or all the parties involved make it understood to each other that they are knowingly accepting an expectation, an action, or a limit. Rules, on the other hand, are more like laws that are handed down by a governing body for the common good of the community, and there’s usually a law enforcement system in operation to make it all work. It’s not founded on love, but the power of law and order and obedience.

However, in my “New School” approach to discipline, where we replace “rules” with “agreements,” parents still hold the authority, power, and responsibility of having the last word regarding values, standards, and acceptable child behavior. Paradoxically, parents earn children’s respect and go a long way toward getting their cooperation by listening to them, and sharing decision-making power with them whenever that makes sense. Another paradox: when parents do this consistently, they tend to start learning early on how truly responsible, cooperative, and respectful their children can be. When children are listened to and have a voice in the decisions that affect them, they are more likely to enter agreements with parents about expectations, limits, and consequences. When they agree with parents on these things, they are more likely to cooperate, follow through on what they agreed to.

When people reach an agreement about expected behavior, limits, consequences, etc., they then have a basis for discipline–cooperation, accountability, integrity, and responsibility. If the child breaks an agreement, the parent holds them accountable–not for disobeying a rule, but for breaking an agreement they have made.


3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model.  Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.

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When Rules Are Broken

When Rules Are Broken

Every organization or group, including the family, has certain standards of acceptable behavior. These are usually called rules, guidelines or standards. They are usually established by the administration, which, in the family, is the parents. They may be very clear, black and white, or they may be quite fuzzy and unclear. They may be specific or general, and they may be written, spoken, or even unspoken.

But every family has them, and it’s the parents’ responsibility to make sure they are known by the kids. Rules, or standards of acceptable behavior, are necessary for everybody, and especially for younger children, such as “No hitting,” “No playing in the street,” “No jumping on furniture,” “No snacks before meals,” “In bed by 8:00,” “Home by curfew” (for teens), etc.

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