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Rules That Don't Work: A True Story


​Here’s how it went down: My almost three year old twins were wreaking havoc. I could not understand why they were not tired from a long and enthusiastic zoo trip that had left me and the baby totally pooped. We were prepping dinner when I noticed it smelled like a nail salon. I wondered if I’d spilled nail polish remover somewhere? Did I even own nail polish remover?

And then I peeked into the next room and found two naked toddlers dumping- literally, dumping- my expensive nail polish on the leather couch. Just in case you don’t know, nail polish does not come out of leather.

I was astounded (how did they get it? How did they open it?) but immediately sprung into clean as much as you can action. And as I realized this would be a permanent stain, I turned to them and said “You’re never ever allowed to touch mama’s stuff  in the bathroom. EVER.”

This was a rule that did not work. Know how I know it didn’t work? Because less than a week later, I went to change the baby and returned to red nail polish on their yellow shag rug. It went down pretty much the same way- mad attempt at cleaning that didn’t work, followed by my declaration that they would never go into my bathroom ever again- impossible because they brush their teeth in there every day.

It probably sounds familiar, if you have children. Someone told me once that parenting can be really tough, especially if you have curious children. Which sounded funny to me, because all children are curious, right? Yes, and all parenting is hard.

My nail polish experience illustrates one of the most oft-committed errors in rule-creation and enforcement. Here’s the deal: I made these rules in fits of rage in order to display dominance and hopefully instill in my children the total wrongness of nail polish on leather and shag rugs. I did not think, I acted. I did not pause and look them in the eye, I saw in horror and burst into fix-it mode.  

Anytime you glance in horror though, or even anytime you have that hot feeling of rage inside of you, the one that screams “how is this even happening,” it is always a very poor time to create a rule. Creating a rule during these times is almost never going to work. You may scare the living daylights out of your child, and they may obey briefly out of fear, but you’re not going to get lasting change.

So what? So these rules are rules that don’t work. As you can see from my nail polish story, it didn’t matter that I was mortified about the nail polish. It happened again even though I tried so hard to instill in these two little girls with big brown eyes, that nail polish stays in the bottle and it never ever goes on the couch, especially not the leather one, and it never goes on the nice yellow rug, and you never go in my bathroom and you never touch things in there either…. It did not work.

The point here, is that these sorts of made in haste rules fail. Every single time.

They do not help our children learn. They do not help us learn either. They do not feel good- to us or to the kids.

And so stay tuned, because tomorrow we’ll be posting a blog about how to make rules that do work and with any luck, you’ll be able to avoid the nail polish havoc I’ve endured lately.

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