>Guest Post Friday: Can a Child Learn Without Rules?

>In our home, we do not live with rules. I’m sure that for some, this conjures up images of children swinging from chandeliers and using slingshots to break the good dinner plates in the backyard. We haven’t had a single rule in our home for years, so long in fact, that it’s completely normal. I actually have to remind myself that we aren’t the norm!

By definition a rule is a noun, “a principle or regulation governing conduct” or a verb, “to control or direct; exercise dominating power, authority, or influence over”.

To me, this seems to be the antithesis of life learning or Radical Unschooling. Neither of these definitions sound appealing to me. I do not desire to regulate, govern, or control my children.

Rules often assume the worst.
Do not hit, kick or punch your family members. I feel like this implies that your child intends to hurt someone else. Most children do not want to hurt others. Second, children will very quickly find a way around this. Maybe someone will get their hair pulled or their toe stomped on. It’s not in the rule!
Rules often assume that a child can’t or won’t honor a simple request.
All dishes must be placed in the sink after use. This is certainly something I’d like to happen in my home, but the truth is it doesn’t always happen. When I request that the kids bring the dishes up, they usually do! If they are busy, I will grab the dishes for them. I show them I’m just as willing, and won’t ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.

I don’t feel that children are emotionally mature enough to enter into contracts, and a rule, is essentially a contract. When a rule is broken, there is usually some sort of punishment or demerit in place. Today, on Twitter, a mom asked “Why are they testing these limits? Any thoughts?!”, when her children broke her car window. I replied, “because they are children, and children make mistakes sometimes”, followed by a great big smiley face. Rules are limiting and unbending. A rule means that a child has no choice, no room to formulate his own decision, and no way of exploring the subject of the rule. There is no valuable learning, only obeying.

Principles, I think, are similar to ethics. They are worthy of exploration and discussion. They hold no fear of failure. They provide an individual the opportunity to adopt their own. One of my personal principles is, I do not harm others. TJ (my husband) and I exemplify this principle by not harming each other or our family (or anyone for that matter). We also exemplify this principle by not allowing ourselves to be harmed, by setting a personal boundary. Some very young children get into habits of hitting. We can tell them no, we can walk away, we can make it known that it hurts. (We can also be very, very patient with the young ones) My children choose not to hurt me, (and even understand that TJ is a little tougher than me in rough play), because they respect my boundaries and they don’t want to hurt me. If we made it a rule, and they chose to follow it, it would be because it is a rule and have nothing to do with me. Rules are also very impersonal.

Why do we make rules?
I think we make rules because we believe we need them. To keep kids safe, to help kids do the right thing, and to make our lives easier. If we make a rule, it’s in stone and we don’t need to spend any more time on it. But that’s not true is it? Isn’t it strange, that when we make rules, we seem to constantly revisit them, repeating the rules. When a child breaks a rule there is often punishment and/or shame. Maybe an argument or tears. Why cause so much stress?

Children can learn everything they need to know without rules. By living in trust, and support and the freedom to make mistakes children can grow confidently and adopt and develop their own principles for living.

Talk – Talk to your kids about your principles. Keep it simple with young ones. “I don’t slap the dog, because it hurts him and he might get angry and bite me.”
Listen – Kids often have great ideas, and if they want to do something against your principles, for example, eat McDonald’s, then hear them out. Help them meet their needs. Often their needs are different than yours, but no less important.
Be present – Quite often rules are set for safety reasons. “No throwing rocks”. It’s easy to find a safe place for rock throwing. Be creative, explain, “we can’t throw rocks here because there is a lot of glass, but if we move over here you can throw them into the puddle”.

I’ve always felt that most rules assumed mal intent. I believe that children are inherently good people and need more loving guidance and open doors than they do rules and limits. Rules are meant to be broken, but principles are lifelong guidelines that can bend, change and mature.

You can read more from Heather at SwissArmyWife
Mindful Parenting & Radical Unschooling.

If you would like to do a guest post, please email me here.


10 thoughts on “>Guest Post Friday: Can a Child Learn Without Rules?

  1. >This is so great. We are unschoolers and are fining our way with the "rule" thing. I recognize my four year old's eagerness to help when it is his choice…versus when he is told to. Yes…this is GREAT stuff. Thanks Heather…and Darcel. -Debbie

  2. >I really love the comment "A rule means that a child has no choice, no room to formulate his own decision, and no way of exploring the subject of the rule. There is no valuable learning, only obeying." Wow so true. Thank you so much for putting into words why I don't want to have rules for my kids and how to explain that to my other adults telling me they need them they need them! Linked here from Bob Colliers Parental Intellegence Newsletter.Thanks…GREAT

  3. >I don't think it's ever too late to start giving a child more freedom. Sometimes how a child would function on a daily basis, isn't always how an adult thinks the child should function. It takes a huge perspective shift… but it works. 😀

  4. >Great post, you have given me (and I am sure others) a lot to think about. I especially love the part "I show them I’m just as willing, and won’t ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself." I think this is a monumental statement that a lot of traditional parenting techniques lack.

  5. >I whole-heartedly agree (but Heather knows that… :-). But I especially like this part: "If we made it a rule, and they chose to follow it, it would be because it is a rule and have nothing to do with me. Rules are also very impersonal." Rules do to relationships the same kind of thing grades do to learning. They create an arbitrary, intangible, 'outside objective' of sorts. They steal the focus, defeating the supposed goal rather than supporting it. "Making it impersonal" is spot on.Do you want your kids to not hit each other because they learn peaceful solutions or only because they don't want a time-out (or, the ultimate in irony, a spanking)? I have several (sad) stories from my teaching days about the lunacy of such rules. But it'd take up too much comment space. :)Great post!

  6. >Great post! Thank you for such a clear explanation of rules vs. principles.We are still in the process of transition from rules to principles. Living this way is making a big difference in our home, and our lives!

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