Spelling out the Rules: Literally!!!

Parenting is no doubt one of the best gifts, but it can also present with its own challenges especially when it comes to setting boundaries and laying down the rules at home. Children need boundaries because it keeps them safe and helps them harness key values and ethics that they can take into adulthood. 

In reality, though, they will naturally push those boundaries because, let us be honest, who likes being told what to do. 

As a child, I am sure my parents will tell you how stubborn I was, but growing up in a Nigerian household, there was only so much you could do to flex your defiance for the rule (Who born you?). However, in retrospect, I am grateful that I had boundaries growing up. It has shaped who I have become and equipped me with life skills that have come in handy in overcoming some very difficult and challenging times in my life. 

So back to recent times! Setting the boundaries at home has not always been easy, and there have been times when it has been easier to just let my kids get away with certain things without consequences. 

Naturally, the next time, they push, even more, then that is a reminder for me that the rules must be spelt out literally. The importance of this was reinforced in my mind a few years ago when my youngest daughter started primary school. Toni is a child with a wonderful mind and strong character who fearlessly speaks her mind without worry. 

At home, although she is respectful about it, she would let you know what was in her head, good or bad. A quality I admire in her, but one we (my husband and I) felt needed to be nurtured positively.

When she started school, I was excited but also slightly apprehensive knowing that without meaning to hurt anyone’s feelings, she will say it as it is unlike her big sister, Tumi who tends to worry more about hurting people’s feelings and would rather not say much. Nonetheless, I had to trust in the effort we had put in as parents to nurture this quality in her. 

Fast-forward to her first parents’ evening. My husband and I were not prepared for the comments from her teacher. 

Meeting with the Teacher. Photo Credit: The School Run

Teacher: “It has been a joy having Toni in my class, she is so confident and has a way of bringing all the children together. She very compassionate and has a lot of empathy. There is one more thing that has been quite surprising about her” ….

Now my heart is racing, what has she done now?!!

The teacher continues … 
“For a child her age, she knows what she wants and is not afraid to say it. She is attentive in class, and I must say, her behaviour is exceptional. Honestly, she has been a real joy to have in class”. 

After the meeting was over, my husband and I busted out laughing. Not sure why, but I think it was a relief, knowing that our little madam (as we often called her) had found her footing in the world after all, and she was going to be alright. 

When we got home, I called her. 
“Toni, your teacher said you have been very good in school, and you have had your listening ears on, Well done”. 

She responds beaming with pride and excitement “thank you, mummy, do I get a treat?”. 

Yes! I said “But I have a question. Wide-eyed, she looks at me with anticipation, “why don’t you always listen to mummy at home as you do in school?” 

And in her usual bluntness, she responded: “But mummy, school is different, THERE ARE RULES“.

Shocked and dismayed, I replied, “but Toni, we have rules at home too”.

“No mummy! She continues… “we don’t, you never tell me what the rules are”. 

And there we have it, my then 5-year-old taught me that sometimes, rules have to be spelt out literally (rather than casually) for kids to recognise them as what they are – RULES

This experience also taught me that although she did not recognise the instructions at home as rules, in fact, she reflected the values we had instilled in her at school which I was grateful for.


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