Parenting: When to Bend the Rules

Don’t be afraid to say to your chiId that you were wrong. I was reminded of this the other day while engaged in a battle of wills with my 5-year-old. It was past her bedtime and yet she was insisting on making cards for her art and music teachers for the end of school.

I felt like I couldn’t back down because I had already told her that she needed to go to bed with no ifs, ands, or buts. My perceptive 10-year-old walked by, however, and said, “It’s a nice thing she’s doing, Mom. Why don’t you just let her finish?”

He had a good point. I didn’t want to back down because, darn it, I had my rules and I was sticking to them! But, in the end, what was it really going to hurt? We set a time limit for her to finish, and I made sure to explain to her that we were making a special exception because she was in the middle of an important, thoughtful project.

Some Things to Remember

  • Consistency is key. If you are frequently bending your rules or not following through on consequences, you lose your credibility and your kids just won’t listen to you.
  • Explain why you are making an exception in that particular case.
  • If the child throws a tantrum, however, then all bets are off. Make sure the child understands that the tantrum is not going to be rewarded. In fact, I have frequently said to my kids, “If you had stayed calm and acted better, I might have changed my mind, but now it isn’t up for discussion.” Makes them think twice next time.
  • Take the opportunity to discuss things you both could do differently next time to avoid getting to a disagreement. I told my daughter that I should probably have given her a 10-minute warning for “lights out.” And we talked about the fact that right before bedtime is not a great time to start projects.
  • If you have to change course, be comfortable with saying, “I made a mistake. Now that I’ve heard your side, I think it is okay to bend our rules this 1 time.” Kids need to hear that it is okay to admit mistakes and they also need to understand the process of compromising. Plus, this process makes them feel that you really do listen to them and take their feelings into account.
  • Make it clear that you are making an exception. I’m pretty sure my daughter knew she would not be making cards at bedtime for a second night in a row!

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