How to 'Pivot' when Changing Parenting Rules

Wouldn’t it be amazing if the job of parenting were static, predictable and one-size-fit-all? All you would have to do is establish a single set of rules for your kids… for every age, stage, birth order and circumstance…then sit back and pull the appropriate levers when necessary and watch them grow into kind, resourceful and resilient adults.

      Tween misbehaving? Slide Tab A into Slot B. Toddler won’t stop throwing her peas? Rule X, please. Teen driver doesn’t see the point of seat belts? Apply Rule D and forget about it.

       Sound utterly appealing? Yes. Based in reality? Not even close.

       Every parent comes to know there is no blueprint for raising children, no rulebook with proven answers. It’s a learn-by-doing job of promoting and supporting the development (emotional, physical, intellectual and social) of unique human beings. And because they are a) constantly changing and b) so different from one another, parenting defies the predictability of, say, the laws of gravity. It’s got much more in common with whack-a-mole. Just when you think you’ve got things under control, up pop a couple of situations you hadn’t encountered before.

       So what now?

       In a word, pivot. Change the rule to meet the particular challenge of each child as the need arises. That’s the job.

Let’s face it, all of us make errors of judgment along the way. But just like you wouldn’t keep driving if you exited the highway headed North when you needed to go South, you can pivot and change your parenting rules – even midstream – to fit your kid’s needs.

Yet many parents worry about changing the rules.

I hear examples like these every time I speak about a parent’s right (and responsibility) to change course along the way:

       “I gave my 6th grader a smartphone before I read the research on the impact of too much screen time on young brains. How can I take it back?”

       “My middle child was always such a good student, so after starting high school I said he could continue to have friends over during the week. I didn’t anticipate how much his homework would suffer. When I mentioned revisiting that decision he was furious so I dropped it.”

       “The rule for my older daughter was no pierced ears until 16, but I think my younger daughter is responsible enough to handle it. But that seems so unfair to her older sister, who had to wait.”  

       Rather than being a sign of weak parenting skills as some may fear, changing course when needed is a sign of strength. It means you’re aware enough to see that your present rule about “whatever” isn’t aligned with the outcomes you want for your kids. Other parents fear being “inconsistent” or worse, undermining their authority by changing their minds. Here’s the paradox: there’s no better expression of authority than making a change due to changing circumstances or the realization that you didn’t do enough due diligence before making a decision. Pivoting can be an object lesson for your kids, actually. It helps them see that they can end a friendship if it becomes unhealthy or change their college major when they uncover their true passion.

Mindful and intentional parents stay alert for those times when the rules need to be tweaked. For example:

·    You realize a rule you’ve set doesn’t fully align with your parenting values

·    You come to believe that the rules you set for your older kids were too strict / not strict enough.  

·    One or more of your kids have unique challenges reaching certain development milestones

“But that’s not fair!” is sure to be voiced whenever a set rule (especially one your kids approve of!) is altered. That’s why how you communicate the change is key to its success.

I coach parents to be upfront with their children about what isn’t working or isn’t optimal – for them or the family as a whole. Be sure to explain why you’re changing course (see bullets above) and talk to them about the new rule. Invite your kids to offer feedback or suggest a possible solution although as the parent, you’re the final arbiter. Then agree to a time period to try the new approach, after which you’ll regroup and reevaluate to see how things are working. If you still believe the situation needs another tweak, make it.

Pivoting is a great opportunity to model how humans learn to adapt when we realize something isn’t working. In a world of constant change, what better gift to give your kids?