Five Rules

Image description: A grey, pebbled background that looks like concrete, with pink, blue, and purple font over the top of it in a gradient. The text reads, “Is this hurting themself? Is this hurting others? Is this hurting property? Do I need to set a limit here because of my own issues? Am I just a little bit out of touch with the creativity of childhood?” It has my handle on it, @occuplaytional. 

This is what goes through my head when I decide if I need to say “no” to something.

(…on a good day, on a regulated day, when I’m parenting consciously…not just responding out of habit)

The first three items are usually easy to tell at a glance. I don’t usually spend a lot of time ruminating about whether to intervene if my child is doing something that’s hurting themself or others.

Maybe a little more consideration if the stuff they’re hurting is just their own stuff, or if it’s for a valid reason. (Here’s an example: My son went through an intense play phase of crashing his Hot Wheels cars together for long periods of time. It banged up most of the cars and also our windowsills, but we weren’t about to stop him from playing, and windowsills are fixable.)

But those first three items are almost there as a mantra, to remind me that the stakes are not that high, that this is not an emergency. That helps me get into a better headspace by the time I’m at the fourth item.

Do I need to set a limit here because of my own issues?

If I find myself answering “yes” to this all day every day, then I give myself grace, and I also figure out how to change that. My goal would be to say “no” to this the vast majority of the time. A long string of “yes”es means I’m starting to get burnt out or neglect taking care of myself, and that means something’s gotta give. The “something” shouldn’t always be my children’s creativity.

But sometimes it’s reasonable to say “yes” to this question.

If my kids want to smear paint all over their bodies, and hair, I’m much more likely to let them do it if bath day is tomorrow. I’m much less likely to let them do it if bath day was yesterday and I’ve just finished braiding my daughter’s hair. It’s okay that there are two different limits in two different situations.*

If my kids want to listen to Alexa play “twinkle twinkle” for the 342nd time in a row, I’m much more likely to let them do it if I have my earplugs in my pocket and can put them in. I’m much less likely to let them do it if I’m already feeling “noised out”. It’s okay.
…And then sometimes we get through all four and land on the fifth one! And if the fifth one is a “yes” then the activity is a “yes”, and I take it as an invitation to get a little more out of the box and a little more creative that day.


*Actually, right now, with toddlers, I would set my kids up for success by not offering paint as an activity option the day after hair’s braided. But it makes for a good example. And maybe they’ll get older and start asking for that stuff, so I left it in anyway.