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Them's the Rules

What rules are working on your kids?

Long before I became a parent, the one thing I'd always promised myself I would never, ever say was the dreaded "Because I'm your mother, and I say so." Now that I've got a 7-year-old, not having that phrase at my disposal means I have to come up with other ways to justify all the things I want Henry to do (or usually, not to do). So I've concocted some very specific (if unusual) "house" rules.

Our number one rule is in effect whenever we go anywhere; Henry can touch anything he likes, as long as 1) it's something an adult would also be allowed to touch, and 2) he touches it with only one finger. If I see his little hand moving toward a shiny object, I bark, "ONE FINGER!" and the potential grabby fist becomes a harmless gentle poke. If he breaks the one-finger rule? He has to spend the rest of our visit marching ahead of me with his hands clasped on top of his head. (Draconian? Sure. Do I need to enforce it often? Luckily for both of us, no.)

And because I'm a lexicographer, I want to avoid teaching Henry that some words are always bad. Of course, I don't want to have the foulest-mouthed kid in school, either. So our rule is that there are no bad words, just bad places to use those words. If Henry wants to talk about certain bodily functions, he can talk about them only in the bathroom. (This has led to him dragging us in there to tell us poop jokes.) The f-word and the s-word? Those are only appropriate in rock music, so he can't use them until he's a rock star. (Guess who's been practicing his guitar more often?)

Lately Henry's been asking to watch violent movies. After a 20-minute debate about whether he's be scared watching the uber-violent 300, I changed my argument: I wasn't worried that he'd be scared, not at all. I was concerned that he wouldn't understand what was going on. So of course he could see 300 — as soon as he wrote me a three-page-paper on the Battle of Thermopylae, (No 7-year-old wants anything that much, I can tell you.)

Eventually, Henry's going to see my "rules" for what they really are: desperate ways to ensure his good behavior. I'm hoping by then he also sees them as my sneaky attempts to make him think about things in context, rather than as black-or-white, yes-or-no situations...and, most importantly, that I'll be able to rattle off new rules a fast as he demonstrates new behavior that needs ruling.

How Our Reader's Rule:

No TV before noon. Also, the Wiggles are asleep whenever it's dark outside.— Kimberly Chapman, Nevada

Whoever made it gets to flush it. (Our youngest would become inconsolable when his older brother flushed his potty deposits before he had a chance to do it himself.)— Kerrie Newbeck, New York

You can wear your backpack anywhere — except in your car seat, the tub, or your bed.— Gina Wyman, Massachusetts

Whichever child is being the "stinker" of the week is on pooper-scooper duty. (The rule works so well that cleaning up after the dog often falls on my husband.)— Karen Mode Lightfield, Ohio

No talking at breakfast. It seems cruel until you've had a meal with my three kids — they simply cannot eat and talk.— Carrie Frantz, Illinois

When my kids don't want to finish their dinner, they have to take one more bite of everything for each year they are old.— Lorraine Lodge, Maryland

The car is a mandatory shoe-wearing zone.— Carrie Chiaro, Arkansas

If you're going to have a snack while you watch TV or a movie, it has to be vegetables. (I can get our toddler to clear a plate of lima beans just by setting it in front of him while Ratatouille's on.)— G. Liz Flecha, Michigan

Meals are only eaten at tables, but snacks can be eaten on the couch or floor (or, well, anywhere).— Moira Waldron, Georgia

If my 6-year-old sees a toy he really wants at the grocery store, and he remembers it for a few visits, I let him get it if he agrees to sacrifice some equivalently priced dessert. (This sometimes backfires like the time my husband and I were left without ice cream for two weeks so Max could have a toy 18-wheeler.)— Amanda B., Arizona

You can wear your footed jammies in public only if you've taken them off long enough for Mom to wash them and you pick the pair that doesn't have a hole in the toes. No chocolate milk before breakfast, except on days that start with S. You can run around buck naked in your own bedroom. And no steamrolling the cat.— Becca Riding, North Carolina

To reduce fighting between my two boys, when they start to squabble I ask the elder, Ian, to stick his arm out in front of him. If he can reach his brother, he needs to take a step back. (This works particularly well when they're on top of each other in the bathtub.)— Laura McGurdy, New York

If Mom or Dad has said no to something and you whine, the answer will stll be no. But if you hold the back of your hand to your forehead (in your best impersonation of a damsel in distress) and say, "Alas, I fear I shall perish without it!" the answer might (just might) be changed to a yes.— Karen Rucker, Kentucky

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CeReality: 5 Families, 5 Stories, 1 Critical Meal

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