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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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