Coping with Changes and Disruptions
Granted, life doesn't happen in a vacuum. Change is something we can count on to happen — even if you don't anticipate big events in your child's life, just the act of growing older is a small, if nearly imperceptible change. Then, there are the big events like moving from one grade to another, or summer break, which can seem to throw your world into chaos.
Holidays and Special Occasions
Beware: the more leeway you give a child when it comes to keeping routines and following rules, the more incentive you are giving her to try to push those boundaries even further. Changes from the routine should be rare and should be the exception to the rule.
For example, it is appropriate to extend bedtime on a few special holidays per year: Christmas Day, Halloween, the night the cousins you haven't seen in a year arrive on a 7:00
What if our life is so hectic we have to make frequent exceptions?
If you need to make frequent exceptions, you may need to reevaluate your lifestyle. Children don't enjoy excitement and full calendars as much as grown-ups do; traveling, eating out, and other “metropolitan” activities can be boring and trying for children.
When you want to make an exception to a rule, do so in an organized way, by explaining the exception ahead of time and setting concrete parameters. You can say something like, “Since it's Halloween, you can go to bed at 9:00 instead of 8:00 just for tonight.”
Expect that your child will pick up on this “special occasion” exception and want to find a reason for a special occasion every other evening. Be firm, and tell her: “I know we extended curfew last week for a special occasion, but that's not going to happen very often. Two, three times a year, tops. This is the rule.” After a few of these back-and-forth exchanges over exceptions to the rule, you will find the consistency of the rules easier than the exceptions and in fact wonder if the exceptions are even worth the grief.
When a Rule Doesn't Work
There are times when rules just don't work. Perhaps your child has grown out of the 8:00 bedtime now that he's twelve. Maybe having him check in with you at work before he goes to a friend's house is interfering with your ability to do your job. It could be that requiring your child to do homework before playing doesn't work as well as letting him blow off steam on his bike for half an hour. The way to tell when a rule doesn't work is when it doesn't produce the desired result (like finished homework and a more peaceful home), and there is a pattern of behavior to indicate it doesn't work, not a one-time fluke.
There's a difference between insistence and consistency. If a rule doesn't make sense, or only serves to underscore your role as the authority rather than help the child and your family thrive, you might need to rethink it. Insisting on blind compliance with rules that don't work, are harmful, or don't make sense just because you want to see “good form,” doesn't teach your child to think or to respect your authority. Instead, it causes resentment and rebellion.
Chances are, you'll need to adapt a rule rather than ditching it all together. If you notice your child needs some downtime before starting her homework, observe this over a period of a few days or weeks, and then say, “I've noticed you have a hard time sitting still during your homework. Would it help you sit still if you had a chance to play first?” Solicit her input and show you care about her feelings and needs. Then, make the new rule concrete and measurable, and post it as you have with the other rules. It should say something such as, “Homework time begins at 4:30