Picking Battles and Setting Limits With Your Kids

We’ve reached the last episode of “Perfectly Imperfect Parents” on The Chopra Well! We’ll miss it! Today’s episode focuses on picking battles – how parents decide which rules and values to prioritize over others. We interviewed host Dr. Cara Natterson on her own experience picking and choosing battles with her kids.

The Chopra Well: In your family, what is the one (or two) things that there is just no compromising on – “whatever Mom says goes”?

Cara Natterson: It’s really one thing: no lies. The best advice I think I ever got is to never tell a lie, and that way you don’t have to remember what you said. So simple, so true. I teach my kids that honesty keeps them safe and healthy. And that makes sense to them. Lying doesn’t have to be about something major – you are not just asking your kid to fess up about shoplifting or cheating, but rather you are setting a baseline that honesty matters in every scenario. If your kid lies about eating all the cookies in the cookie jar and then she has  horrible stomach ache, you might think about rushing her into the doctor to make sure it’s not appendicitis. My kids know that telling the truth minimizes potential unnecessary drama. I really believe that if you start with a firm rule about no lying as the basis for the family moral code, it’s hard to go wrong.

CW: Playdates and sleepovers… How do parents ensure that their rules will be followed, even if they don’t match up with other parents’ rules?

CN: You can’t be sure. But you can ask your kids to follow your rules even when they are away from home, and you can explain why this is important to you. If they understand the rationale, they are more likely to follow through. You can also share your rules with the hosting parent if you like, just to make sure that they are followed (though frankly, I don’t think this makes a big difference). But when it comes to things like a little extra screen time or eating a junky dessert, I actually think looking the other way and letting your kids stretch your rule just a tiny bit can make certain things in life a little more accessible and ultimately less coveted. This is a real gray zone, though, and most rules really shouldn’t ever be broken. So if  you are going to be flexible with some and not with all, make sure your kids are old enough to understand your inconsistency and they need know which ones are absolutes (like lying!).

CW: Can you think of a time your rule on something was significantly adjusted, whether because of the context of a situation or your own changing beliefs on the subject?

CN: I adjust my screen time rules often. Mostly because I am far from perfect, and this is a rule that feels safe enough to break. Just the other day I was on a very important conference call and my 7-year-old son was home with me. He had finished his homework, practiced piano, and built Legos. He was bored and hungry, and it would have been dinner time but I was asking him to wait for me to complete the call. Normally in the middle of the week there is no iPad and no Wii, but I sat him next to me at my desk, and you would laugh if you saw how swiftly I handed him that iPad. Suffice it to say that he was totally fine waiting to eat.

CW: Is there anything you’re somewhat lax on that other parents might find surprising?

CN: Bedtime on the weekends. I preach to everyone how important sleep is – and I believe that deeply! But as my kids have gotten older, I also think that there are memory-forming experiences in life that I don’t want them to miss. Often our family dinners on Friday nights start late and end even later, and they are usually followed by a game or dance party or some other production curated by the kids. How can I put an abrupt stop to that and send them to bed? Doesn’t makes sense to me. When they look back on their childhoods, I am certain that memories of these evenings will flood their minds and I don’t want to take that away from them, even when I know that they could use the extra sleep.

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