The Importance of Rules

Today, the autumn sky was clear and the air was crisp. Lindsey got up very early in the morning. She was really excited. What was she going to do? Oh, she was going to have an autumn field trip. No wonder she was so happy! But it was a pity that I could not accompany her because I had other plans, so her father would accompany her instead. It would be great for her to spend more time with her father so that they would develop a closer bond.

I had full faith in my husband, thinking that it should be no problem for him to finish this task smoothly since he had spent a lot of time with his daughter ordinarily. However, it didn’t turn out well. After the autumn field trip, many teachers came to me and said that on the whole trip Lindsey became less independent and stayed in her father’s arms all the time!



Hearing this, I was outraged. He was always like this. As along as our little daughter acted in a pettishly charming manner, he would give in right away and lose his principles, always arguing that she was too young to walk or that she was tired. He would say that she was too young now and when she grew up then she would walk by herself. This is just one example out of many. My husband has so few principles that now Lindsey refuses to listen to him at all. At this point, my husband would say, “Our young daughter is disobedient. You are stricter than me. Please come and deal with it. She is more likely to listen to you!”




This is not a question of who is stricter, but if there principles laid out for the child. “Nothing can be accomplished without rules or principles.” This is true for children.

We are not completely free in this world to do as we please. The freedom given to children should be within limits. When Lindsey would ask me to hold her up, I would say, “You’re tired, aren’t you? Mommy is tired, too. Let’s have a rest and later we can keep walking, ok? You are the best, I think you can do it, come on!” Ten minutes later, Lindsey continued walking by herself. When we go out together I don’t need to hold her up in my arms at all because she knows that her mommy has principles and will stick to them.

Therefore, it is very good to establish rules starting at a young age. When she gets used to rules, we can communicate with her in a “mature” way, which will make parenting easier and help children become more sensible.

So how do we help our children establish rules? I would like to share some personal tips with you.




For children between 0-1 years of age, we should prepare them mentally for developing their sense of rules. Create regular and consistent routines for the child. Use exaggerated expressions and body language to say “No” to the child. Use facial expression such as terrified or angry to show disapproval.

For children between 1-2 years old, we should help them establish their sense of order. Most children at this stage are quite sensitive to order. They like to try all kinds of new things, but they can’t express their emotions well in words. They often lose their temper, crying and screaming. For children at this stage, we can accept their reasonable requirements, but for the moments that cross the line we can calm them down through hugging, showing empathy, and distracting them. At the same time, we can guide them to learn to put away their toys and follow the rule of returning everything they used to its original place.

For children between 3-5 years old, we should be gentle and firm as we guide them to follow the rules. Firstly, set up clear rules for children to follow and specify the punishment for breaking the rules and this should be followed strictly. Secondly, we need to control our emotions, analyze our children’s behavior objectively and carefully, understand the motivation behind their behavior, and determine the punishment according to their motivation. Thirdly, the rules should be fair for different children. The most basic and important thing is to be firm yet gentle with our children.




It is rather too idealistic to expect our children to understand everything from such a young age. Lung Ying-tai wrote in Children Take Your Time, “There is a herd of cows in the field, browsing on grass leisurely all day, as if the whole sky and the whole grassland belong to them. Until one day, a calf wanted to go further and hit a very thin wire, so thin that it was barely visible -- that was the limit, the charging wire. The calf got an electric shock, startled, and stopped, realizing that there were some forbidden places and some forbidden things in this world.” Therefore, it is utterly important to establish rules for children when they are young.