What to do when others break your parenting rules

Have a strict low-sugar rule for your kids? Here's what to do if friends and family members start breaking your parenting rules. Getty Images

Parenting would be a lot simpler if children followed all of your rules, but when other family members and friends start breaking them, experts say you have to speak up.

“Communication is key when someone steps over your own personal or parenting boundaries,” says parenting expert Julie Romanowski in Vancouver.

“In most cases, other people do not know or are not certain what each individual person’s boundaries are. It is each person’s responsibility to speak up and communicate what they are and how you would like to have others support you.”

READ MORE: Why it’s important for parents to take time for themselves

So whether this means no sugar before bedtime or no late-night television, parents are responsible to let others know how serious and important these rules are.

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“This tends to be a lot easier than getting stuck in a reactive situation. Include what the boundaries are, how you would like to see them be supported, what you are and are not willing to do/tolerate, [and] what will happen if it continues to be broken.”
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When rules are broken

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For the most part, Romanowski says, people who break parenting rules aren’t doing so to cause harm or to make the parents seem like strict monsters.

Often, they believe working around the rules means children will have more fun. Staying up past your bedtime means more playtime and eating more junk food could just mean giving children more of what they like.

“This doesn’t make it less infuriating,” she says.

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She notes this is when you have to communicate with the other party.

“It can help bring some insight to the entire situation and help to clarify that these are one-off situations that don’t normally occur on a regular basis.”

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She adds children learn through repetition and bad habits blossom after repeating the same habits over and over. For example, if your child has an uncle who always spoils them with treats, children are more likely going to expect treats every time they see this particular relative.

“However, if something does happen that you don’t agree with and the results weren’t what you were hoping for, take note of the situation and let it be a learning lesson as to what to do next time,” she says. “Focus on the positives in a bad situation rather than be bombarded by the negatives. Your participation is key here, not perfection.”

What to do in the moment

And while many rules are often broken behind a parent’s back, sometimes you will see family members or friends break them right in front of you.

When this happens, Romanowski says the most important thing to do is to become aware. “Have a quick chat with yourself about your experience and note the reality of it all and the facts.”

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You should also assess the situation — decide if it is worth bringing up with the person on the spot, later or letting it go fully.

“You get to decide whether you want to make it a private talk or public, in the moment or afterwards, verbally or written, with everyone or just the specific person.”

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You should also give yourself some credit for speaking up and addressing the issue.

“Understand you fulfilled your role by correcting the behaviour and standing up to what you believe in,” she says. “You did what was right even though things did not or may not have changed.”

And ultimately, you also have to make some tough decisions. While you probably can’t easily disconnect from family members or friends, you should ask yourself if allowing your kids to interact with that particular person or group is really worth it.

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