Firm but fair is an expression we use all the time but how often do we stop to think about what it really means? Firm but fair is a useful concept in raising our children and can help us to establish a good relationship with them, and allow them to develop good behaviour. Here are some of the dos and don’ts of being firm but fair with children:
Do set clear boundaries and rules for your children so they know what you expect from them. Make your expectations reasonable and achievable and don’t keep moving the goalposts.
Don’t assume that your child was born knowing how they are supposed to behave. It is our responsibility to enforce good and healthy boundaries so our children understand the difference between good and unacceptable behaviour.
Do be consistent in how you apply the rules. As parents it is very easy to change our behaviour depending on our mood but children need to be able to predict our reaction. If something makes you laugh one day but makes you angry the next your child will become confused and insecure.
Don’t make threats you won’t follow through. In the heat of the moment it’s easy to threaten a misbehaving child with going home or going to bed without any dinner but it might not be realistic to do these things and you may regret what you have said. Once made, threats need to be carried through so think before you speak.
Do think of alternatives to No. If children hear the word no often enough it can lose its meaning, especially if it can also mean ‘maybe’, or ‘not now but perhaps later’. Turn a negative into a positive, for example instead of saying ‘no don’t do that’ say ‘why don’t you try it like this’. If a child asks for something give them other options rather than saying no. Use a more direct word such as ‘stop’ if you need to protect them from a dangerous situation.
Don’t get emotional. Shouting, crying, or getting angry with your child is understandable in some situations but it won’t help to improve their behaviour. Stay calm and rational, don’t forget you are the adult and you should ultimately be in control of the situation.
Do tell your child if you’re bending the rules. It’s fine to break a few rules occasionally as long as your child knows that you are doing it intentionally and not simply giving in. Perhaps you might allow them to stay up an hour later than usual because you have special visitors for example.
Don’t expect results overnight. If you are establishing ground rules on a certain issue for the first time it will take your child a while to adapt and to get used to the new routine, but as long as you don’t give in and maintain a consistent stance they will come to accept it and will benefit from it in the long run.
Do reward good behaviour in a positive way, for example tell your child that as they have been very well behaved and helpful in the supermarket you can stop at the playground on the way home.