Shifting From Rules to Guidelines


Have you, a parent, ever thought about not having rules for your child?

Sometimes parents just do what many books have been saying for years.  We have been told, in books and talks for many years, that a parent must have rules for the child, that the parent must tell the child what to do and if the child does not do it, then the parent must punish the child.

We have been told that even if the parent does not want to be unkind to the child, still the parent just must do it so that the child will turn out well. We have been told that the parent should punish the child either by spanking the child with the parent’s own hands or hitting the child with varying objects, such as a branch of a tree or a belt.

In recent years, some advisors have suggested replacing physical punishment with emotional punishment.  That means the parent should punish the child by trying to make the child either sad or angry, and often not just a little bit sad, but miserable. Suggestions have varied from “restrictions” which means making the child miss something that the child wants to do, or taking away something the child cares about, or “time out,” which means sending the child away from the parent just when the child needs to have the parent explain and help the child learn whatever it is the parent chooses.  

We have been led to believe that punishment is a necessary part of parenting.  But, think about this.  Does a parent want the parent-child relationship to be full of orders and punishment, a sort of master-slave relationship?  Is that what a parent really thinks will best help the child be a fine person?

There is a completely different way for a parent to help teach a child.  Really it is what comes naturally.  And now research is proving that even a very young child, even a baby, is damaged by parental abuse, whether it is physical or emotional abuse from the parent.  It is not a help to the child at all.   Common sense tells us, too, that if a parent wants a kind child, the way to do it is… be a kind parent.  A parent need not be mean.  Probably no parent wants a mean child or a confused or depressed child, but the parenting philosophy that some parents have accepted because it is what they have read or seen around them is almost the opposite of a philosophy where the parent can help the child appreciate life and care about others.


Instead of setting rules and ordering the child around, the parent can work with the child, helping the child learn.  For this to work, rules must be replaced by guidelines.  This is because where there are rules, there must be punishment when a rule is broken or there will be chaos or confusion in the relationship. Human beings are not perfect so rules are likely to be broken, even if by accident. If a parent has guidelines instead of rules, then when a guideline is not followed, there need not be punishment.  Instead, there can be wonderful communication. 

Parent can talk and explain and listen to the child’s thoughts, too. And talk some more. And listen some more.  And work together with the child, teaching, helping the child be a person who appreciates life itself. Such a person will naturally be more open to learning and getting along with others, and being more productive in life, too.

And oh, what a wonderful relationship with parent and child respecting each other!  It can be a relationship full of openness, a relationship where the child knows that the parent will listen and talk about anything, everything. Parents can replace rules and punishment with guidelines and communication. Parent can smile! Child can smile!  Why not do it? 

You will be glad you did!  Your child will be glad!  And, everybody else will be glad because of the fine person you will have added to the world.

 Blog Post By: Emily Hunter Slingluff, Author of