Helping A Child Learn To Rule Over Himself

“Second only to learning how to bond, to form strong attachments, the most important thing parents can give children is a sense of responsibility – knowing what they are responsible for and knowing what they aren’t responsible for, knowing how to say no and knowing how to accept no.  Responsibility is a gift of enormous value….We’ve all been around middle-aged people who have the boundaries of an eighteen-month old.  They have tantrums or sulk when others set limits on them, or they simply fold and comply with others just to keep the peace.  Remember that these adult people started off as little people.  They learned long, long ago to either fear or hate boundaries.  The relearning process for adults is laborious.” – page177-178,   “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

“Sad at heart, the King stepped from behind the screen, took the Prince by the hand, and led him away from the school.  When they reached the royal palace, the King spoke thus to his son: “Anyone who has to be King someday and to rule over other people must first learn to rule over himself.” – From the short story “The Prince Who Could Not Read” in the book “Verses and Poems and Stories to Tell” by Dorothy Harrer

Helping a child learn to take responsibility for themselves is one of the hardest and most challenging tasks in parenting and also one of the most necessary.  This starts at an early age in expecting right action, in being right by the child’s side to help them do what is right, and to not become angry when the child does not remember and does not do what is right.   We help the child make wrongs right and foster an attitude in the child that we know this child can do this, but we certainly expect to have to be right there physically to assist.

However, as  a child grows, it becomes even more clear that a child must learn to take responsibility for themselves, their actions and how their actions affect others in the family and outside of the family. Sometimes for a child this includes both positive help and consequences.  This often can particularly come to a head in the home around that developmental leap of the ages of six and seven if it has not already.  Direct, simple and clear rules are helpful to our older kindergarteners and early grades children.

Consistency is also very important in developing consequences.  For example, I am a big stickler on treating each other with respect and kindness (and especially having the children treat each other with respect and kindness!).  I will not feel generous to take the children to the park in the afternoon  if they have been fighting all morning.  I have this thing about not taking ugly out into the world, so if things are not going well at home we can go and use our hands to do something helpful for each other and then maybe play in the yard but not with friends. Part of going places or being with friends is treating family members with respect and kindness.   My children are fully aware of this rule, and have been since they were very small.  Restitution, and showing how to turn a problem into an opportunity is important.

Never feel badly about consequences.   Consequences held in love and without anger help provide a limit for the child that they cannot yet provide for themselves.  They will eventually internalize these things if you start and are persistent and consistent.   We all want our children to grow up to be Kings and Queens and able to rule over themselves.  Let us all work this week with our children to gently guide them toward this endeavor.

Many blessings for a happy week,


26 thoughts on “Helping A Child Learn To Rule Over Himself

  1. I have been loving these last two post of yours Carrie! This has been weighing on my mind as of late, coming down from a pretty rough summer (and year, frankly!). One of the issues we are dealing with these days is this very topic of respect and kindness to our family members. I like the idea of not going out into the world to interact with others if there hasn’t been kindess shown to each other in the home. Do you have any other suggestions for restitution when things like name calling or physical meaness occur (specifically for my 7 and 9.5 year old boys?) I feel stuck beyond saying “this is not how we treat each other in this family”. Thanks!

    • Tanya,
      Oh YES! How about if they have assigned chores one has to take over for the other or giving them more work to do? My whole theory at home is if we have time to fight and be rude to each other, we must need more work to do, hahahahahahaha. Doing laundry or folding laundry for the injured party comes to mind as well. How about too putting them to work together to make something or do something for another sibling in the family if they both really are at fault? Doing “communal” work like preparing dinner, doing the dishes, also works well in my house.
      These topics have been weighing on my mind and in my family too, so I hope we can all brainstorm together!
      Carrie 🙂

    • It really is hard, isn’t it Linda! For me as well, but if I keep being calm and consistent I can see great progress in us as a family…
      Many blessings,

  2. What a great post, Carrie. I think it’s true that sometimes parents are afraid of consequences. It’s interesting to me to realize that because most of our growth happens when we make mistakes, we should actually be glad when we make a mistake. Lesson learned! Growth!

  3. I’ve been really wanting to ‘keep the ugly at home’. But I feel stuck when we’re off to something for one of the children, and its one of the others that is primarily playing up. Shall I cancel the outing and in effect punish them all?
    By the way, we’ve all recovered well from chickenpox now, and just have to get back into our normal weekly ‘routines’. Not easy.

    • Carla,
      Yes, sometimes it does work out that way, but that is why I usually let energy come out in the yard or whateever. As your children grow and such, you may have instances where your oldest one could go off and play if a smaller child needs to be home. Sometimes too, with younger children, they really are just tired by midday, so being home is a consequence but not a punishment because they may just need the rest and less stimulation, if that makes sense at all. So glad you are feeling better, and keep working on those routines that make your days more lovely and peaceful.

  4. My four year old is coming along, and while I am trying to not get angry at his steamrolling his brother – sometimes his brother is hurt and sometimes his brother laughs through it – it doesn’t always work. I am looking for words to say that aren’t angry but purposeful. is this a concept too early for him? As his teacher says: ‘He’s not even there’,when he does this. He is clearly acting because his brother is getting attention – or adults are having a conversation around him (or even about him with my parents here this weekend) – and he wants attention by getting bad attention vs none at all for the moment.

    I had read that wrapping his hands in a silk and sitting down with him to talk with him about it gently is another path. I’ve tried it but don’t *remember* it when it comes to the time of it happening. I usually just pull his brother from him (because an adult was not preventing the issue from happening in the first place).

    This whole visit has been very stressful on me – but in a way has forced me to be a better parent – knowing I cannot leave my children alone with my parents. They EXPECT adult behavior from children. They have also clued me in as to how I was not a child like this (girl vs boy I think), none of us was (my brother WAS but they don’t remember). One (me or my husband) cannot tell my parents they expect too much – they are already closed to what they feel is right and wrong and won’t open to more. (Sitting right on the floor my Dad doesn’t do anything to prevent my older from steamrolling my younger, then gets angry, sarcastic and physical with him (pushing him away, telling him to go away) when he acts out. The one time it worked well was when he sat and played with BOTH – blocks for one, cars for the other, and redirection back to the cars several times (I’m guessing) before the uncomfortable position got to him. I didn’t get there in time to reinforce the work my Dad was doing – and indeed would have been told ‘but I shouldn’t HAVE to do this!’ This is the logic I work with my husband most days – sometimes not.)

    ANY suggestions, thoughts, words, anything is welcome. My brain is tired. So is my body. I am also tired of doing it ‘wrong’ in MY book – and right in others. Because their right is wrong, not working, and not healthy.

    It was hard when I was a new Mom. It was hard when I was Mom to a willful 18 month old. It was hard when I wanted to become pregnant again, and finally did. It was EASY being pregnant, but hard with trying to avoid a c-section. And birth was harder, because the C left me wiped out. Thankfully I didn’t believe this time I needed prescribed narcotics to recover faster. But I still had gaps of time when I was not able to be there with my older son. And during those gaps he learned all those things I didn’t want him to learn – he is EQUAL with his brother, not less than and having to wait. I wanted to teach that some needs come first – sometimes his sometimes his brother’s – but both are necessary to be met.

    That’s why when he acts out and is crying with other’s withdrawal of love that I am there to comfort the tears as I can. That’s what I learned from my parents: They have conditional love. I love you when you behave the way I want you to. Always have. Still have. Unlikely to change. THIS is what I am trying to avoid in my teaching life with them.

    More that I want to say, but am tired and can’t remember what it was. Sorry.

    • Michelle,
      Do let me muse on things for you, I don’t have a great amount of time to think right now. The situation you described is so trying, and four is a more challenging age for most parents. I would definitely urge you to head back to the four year old posts under the development tag, there are many there about discipline situations with a four year old. Four is an age that typically does not get along great with younger siblings, so I think when something happens he must do something with gentle hands a bit later on when he is calmed down to help his brother. And a four year old needs a really solid structure and physical energy expenditure because they don’t know how to channel that energy at all. Words like be gentle and such rarely help, so we must keep engaging the body. The four year old posts talk about this at length, but let me think more for you,
      Wishing you some peace and rest!
      Blessings, hugs,

  5. Carrie, this really spoke to me. I think I need to get that book, if just for that story! I have an almost-8 who is really resistant to reading and has a lot of issues with impulse control. I’ve been putting off having him evaluated because I’m pretty sure the answer would be “ADD”.

    • Hi Annette!
      😦 about ADHD. I have several back posts on here about ADHD if they would be helpful to you at all, I think if you type ADHD into the search engine they should come up. And that Dorothy Harrer book has many valuable stories, it is a simple spiral bound paper cover book, but it really is chock full of goodies.

      Much love to you!
      Carrie 🙂

  6. These last two post have been so timely for me as well. I can see that we need to have some assigned chores around here! We don’t really have any beyond making beds and putting laundry in the correct hamper. Can anyone suggest appropriate chores for a 4 and 6.5 year old. Our automatic dishwasher just broke and we can’t afford to replace it right now, so dishes come to mind. Any other ideas? Thanks! I’m always inspired and reenergized by what I find here.

    • Michelle, I know there is a post on chores and children on here, several I think, that suggest chores by age. You may want to punch in chores and children in the search engine on the blog and see what posts come up. 🙂 Also, the post that Liza wrote not too far back about Meaningful Work With Toddlers could also be helpful since many of those chores can be extended to the ages of your children.


  7. Oh, goodness, Carrie, what another timely post! Such a common struggle and the more I learn the more I wish that I had these tools when my oldest was younger. I’m feeling that seven year change very strongly here (in fact, noticed another loose tooth tonight as he was having trouble falling asleep in our new home! Hummm….that might explain some of today’s behavior!) Anyway, I love your suggestions to restore and teach some empathy, self-control, and contrition to one another….giving them a try tomorrow! Blessings~

  8. I have a questions, actually, desperate for help

    How do I get my child to take responsibility over her school work. homework, and studying for test?
    Its a painful experience to do homework at my house. What should take an hour, takes over 2. she can’t seem to complete her pages without help, mind you, my 5th grader doesn’t need help. She can’t seem to focus. She is too busy listening to our conversation, what her siblings are doing and if she’s in her room or mine, doing her homework, she’s busy looking around.

    I want this battel (going back/forth with her) to be over but I dont wnt her to fail. To me, not being on top of her, making sure her homework is competed, would mean, I am allowing her to fail. I dont wnt her to fail but its also a battle. She needs to take full responsiblity, since she will be entering 6th grade soon


    • HI Linda,
      Most ten year olds (you didn’t say what age, but I assuming a more public school situation so maybe ten?) are kind of procrastinors, dreamers, get caught up in their own little worlds for sure. I think that is why so many of them hate to take showers or baths and don’t want to do basic hygeine sort of tasks, LOL. Well, I think perhaps she needs to come home and have a high protein/good fat kind of snack and either do it right away, which may be hard if she is fatigued from school, or go and get some wiggles out at a park and then come back and do it. Can the younger children go somewhere and play so she has less noise? And perhaps, even though she is ten, she may need you to sort of be monitor until she does better,like you said, but not dependent. “I will help you start these four problems and then check it at the end.” Maybe having a “carrot” would help too – you have homework until four, and then at four we are all “going out to the park”, “having popcorn”, “taking a walk” I would be busy folding laundry or doing something in the kitchen.
      She may also be using this time to try to connect with you. Do you sit down and talk with her about her day before she starts her homework and really connect with you? Ten is small and I am sure she misses you during the day as well. So if her connection with you is filled, it may go better.

      I think too, talk to her teachers and tell them it is taking her a long time, she seems fatigued and like she can’t do it and see if they have suggestions. Is she doing well in class or distracted?

      I think the last piece would be to go back and look at the basics – sleep, media, food, outside activity and play. Ten year olds need a good amount of physical activity and play still. They still need hours to play in the afternoon, which should be part of getting the homework done as you mentioned. She should be in bed around 8:30 to read and wind down, some will go to sleep by 8:30 actually on their own accord if they are tired and sleep until 7, my ten year old does, so lack of sleep and being fatigued can be a big problem in many ten year olds. Food – healthy food with good fats like avocado, coconut oil, etc are also important along with greens, fruits, veggies. Many families who do let their ten year olds do media don’t allow it on school nights. So, I don’t know where your family falls in any of these things, but these might be things to help your situation. Also, I will be doing a series of posts on the development of the ten year old, so perhaps that will be helpful as well.

      Many blessings,

  9. I just wanted to share how we do things – my oldest is almost 9, and middle child is 3.5, so there’s quite a bit of a gap there. I’ve found that if the oldest is really upset and needs to make amends for something, making him do his regular chores or homework or anything like that will really ruin his motivation for doing it voluntarily the next time. So I never make any of them do regular chores or each others work (unless that is an idea they come up with themselves). Instead, I enlist them in what you referred to as communal work – that way, they are being physical without being “punished” to do things I expect them to do without grumbling.

    I’m not sure if this is outside of the topic, but I have been struggling with my oldest and thinking and meditating so much about how to help him rule himself – not in a conflict situation, because I do actually feel confident and happy about the place he is at at the age of almost 9 and having two younger siblings. But he quits everything. He doesn’t want to try anything new because he wants to be able to do things right immediately. We’ve never pushed him to enroll in anything, but he has tried pathfinders and a music/arts for kids class and swimming lessons (not at the same time, but over the last 4 years or so). He quits everything and for the last year I’ve just said no to everything, feeling that school and friends and life in general is enough. However, I need to help him become more confident in just trying. How do I do that? I’ve thought about ourselves and the environment at home, and I think I have located a couple of areas that might be part of the reason for this, but I am at a loss as to how to BUILD him, not just “remove” attitudes/feelings/atmosphere in our home (I actually think our idea of having clear expectations might have turned into him feeling that we have very HIGH expectations).

    I love these posts on childrens development and challenges by the way.

    • Stella,
      Is he expected to participate regularly and or finish the communal work? If not, I think that could be a tie in in terms of developing his own will to complete things. Some people are just starters, (initiators) what I call middlers – not great at generating ideas, but good at working through what someone else lays out, or finishers. I do think part of our role as a parent is to see where our children are for their age and help them develop those other sides. I disagree that having clear expectations puts high expectations on a child, unless you feel the clear expectations are not realistic and things are not being done in joy… He is a perfectionist himself? Common amongst the oldest children. I think with children like this, and here is where your foot probably is going to come at me through your screen, but you say, “Okay, you can choose from A or B, but we are signing up to do this and we will follow it though (the end of the class if it is eight weeks of swimming) or whatever the length is.” Although, I do think at nine, depending on his maturity level, he may be just happy to hang out, which might not be a problem if he is consistently following through in other areas of life, if that makes sense. The classes or something outside the home may just be the tool to work on this area should he need that.
      I think the other thing to think about as well is if he is in school, not homeschooling, he really may be just happy to come home. He may just need to recharge, so maybe that is why he is not interested in classes? If you feel there are reasons that he needs to take things, though, I think the rule needs to be he cannot quit, especially if these are short term things. I think the other place to work on this is as a family – when you take family outings, or just Dad or you take him for some alone time, try new things and try it together. Zip lines, canoeing, hiking, many of those outdoor physical kinds of things can be just enough to provide a challenge that he can try and overcome whatever it is holding him back. But at nine, you are definitely building his character for future jobs and other areas of life. We don’t quit marriage, we don’t quit a job if it is hard, that kind of thing…

      I dont know; just some ideas I am throwing out there, you know him best and are the expert on your family Thank you for sharing your story and being one of my long term readers!
      Many blessings,

  10. Thank you so much for your thoughts! I really appreciate it. And yes, he is a perfectionist. So is my husband and I, and we are both older children. I do see the pattern 😉 He is expected to finish chores and tasks and he is a wonderful help actually, he rarely complains about his regular work around the house but then both my husband and I enjoy being at home and fixing things around here, cooking and cleaning and so on, so house work isn’t really a stressful thing for us and I think that the kids pick up on that and they really love our house and just being at home.

    As far as signing up for things and so on – I truly belive children need peace and calm, so I’ve never tried to push him into doing anything. No hurried schedules here. But he has been wanting to try things and then nothing has really worked out and since quitting pathfinders a little over a year ago he hasn’t been involved in anything and we won’t let him start anything again until we’re certain he’s ready and more mature. I’ve really been working on being the “rock” – I know that I have been “reasoning” with him a LOT more than I do with #2 and #3, causing him to bear too much responsibility for things that are just a child’s way sometimes. So what I find difficult is seeing him refuse to try anything new. Water slides, slides, balancing,even jump roping – anything remotely physically “unknown” (and this is a child that spends a LOT of time outdoors, every day, and we all spend a lot of time hiking and being outside together). I’m preparing for Michaelmas celebration, I have a feeling that might be the festival that will speak most strongly to his heart this year…

    I guess I am mostly worried because he is already halfway towards 18. And I’m really scared that the time for our influence is running out, and I so want him to have the confidence and inner strength he deserves. He is such a light.

    Anyways. So are you Carrie! I am so grateful for you and your work here!

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  12. I really appreciate this post. I do have a question; how can I be right there by my 2 1/2 year olds side for setting boundaries, guiding, giving consequences and being consistent when I am caring for my 6 month old (and 4 1/2 year old and the home and meals with no help and little sleep)? I feel like my middle child is slipping through the cracks. He can be completely unruly. I was thinking today that I should start dropping EVERYTHING even if that means putting down my baby even if he is nursing or I almost have him asleep, whenever my 2 1/2 year old misbehaves. No matter what.
    Sometimes I also feel torn between thinking; “okay, he is a two year old, this is to be expected, let me not have too high of expectations, he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and he will grow out of this behavior just as my first born did” and “this child is totally unruly and something must be done about it”. I have to find a balance I think in completely restricting certain actions, while letting go of him not listening to me at my every request. I’d appreciate any guidance. I often feel torn on this issue.
    Thank you Carrie. Btw I am sorry I have not gotten back to you regarding my last comment about my daughter. On that issue to I wax and wain between feeling worried about her (I believe coming from a perspective of fear) and feeling like I do not need to worry b/c she will be fine. I go back and forth between feeling worried, like I am failing as a parent, to confident and that I need to follow my own instincts and not be swayed by others from this Waldorf community. Swayed or educated by? I am sleep deprived (nursing baby at night) which must play a role in my own imbalance here.
    Thank you again!!

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