Instead of relying on rules, consider using the term “responsibilities.” This is much more than a mere word choice. In contrast to “rules,” “responsibilities” empower and elevate. They are stated in positive terms, whereas rules are often stated in negative terms. When communications are in positive terms, there is a natural tendency for you to help rather than to punish. So, rather than using the term “rules,” consider using a term that describes what you want to encourage.
For example, you probably have some rules in your home that state:
- No hitting.
- Don’t make a mess.
- Don’t blame others for my mistakes.
- Stay out of my brother’s room.
- Don’t be late.
All of these statements are meant to control the child’s actions, and they are all focused on what the child cannot do. They have an implied “or else” connotation.
When you flip the rules so they become responsibilities, notice how they are expressed in positive terms for what is desired, and are meant to teach:
- Be kind to others and to myself.
- Take care of my things.
- Accept ownership of my choices.
- Respect other people’s property.
- Plan ahead so that I can be on time.
Here’s why responsibilities work so much better than rules: If you say to a child, “You are always late,” the child is not empowered to change. However, by saying to the child, “You have such great habits in many areas, and being on time is something you can improve,” you have reminded the youngster of successes upon which to build. You have encouraged the child to strive because of the positive picture you have created.
When you give children responsibilities, they learn to live in a more responsible way.