Picking the Battles With Our Children – Negotiable vs Non-Negotiable Rules

The family unit can only run smoothly when respect, rules and a clear set of boundaries are firmly entrenched. In my previous post, Saying No to our kids, I wrote about the need to instill in your children the notion of accepting that ‘no means no’.  This is often necessary for a childs safety, for the efficient functioning of a household or simply to help a child realise that they cant always get what they want.

I can hear already the cries of the possibly more ‘politically correct’ parents than I , as they cringe at the eroding of a childs  right to self expression and of the derailment of the little peoples  input into the decision making processes of the family unit.

But fear not, for I am happy to let my children have a say in many matters that concern them, its just that we as parents get to choose which matters they have a say in, and those that they do not. In other words there are negotiable rules and non-negotiable rules.

The non-negotiables can easily be justified under 2 headings:

Safety (any behaviour that puts themselves or others at risk)

  •  a toddler must hold my hand when crossing the road
  • a seatbelt must always be worn when riding in a car
  • a helmut must be worn when riding bikes and scooters
  • violent and aggressive behaviour will not be tolerated

Respect (behaviour that disrespects themselves or others)

  • Name calling, teasing, bullying
  • destroying property
  • swearing


These non negotiables are simply that. They are boundaries that must be adhered to, they are the “No’s” worth following through with and they are the times when a child will walk away with a valuable lesson.

There are other times however, when we may let our children have more say in what they can and can’t do. These are the negotiable rules, and these will be the rules that differ with each family and with each parenting style.  These are the battles not always worth fighting, the behaviours you are happy to accept and the times when you let your children negotiate a little more in order to arm them with a sense of having some say in the decision making processes.

Some examples of more negotiable rules in my household are:

  •  what the children wear (within reason)
  •  how they style their hair
  • what television shows they watch (again within reason)
  •  how much they wrestle with each other (although I sometimes stipulate that it is to be isolated to  outdoors on the trampoline)
  • how much tv they watch
  • computer games they play, music they listen to etc.

These more negotiable rules are really dependant on what is important to you as a family and what you as a parent believe are important aspects of your family life. They can also alter depending on changing circumstances and be revised as a child matures and develops. And remember that all kids are different, so know your kids and know which decisions they have the ability to make and those which they may not be ready for.

It doesnt matter what your individual negotiable family rules are therefore, what matters is that your children feel they have some input into these areas. It is important they feel they are being heard, that their opinions are valid and at these times they are having some say in the matters that concern them. Apart from giving them some responsibility and independence, it also helps to prevent the rebelliousness of a child who feels they have no say.   A  little give and take therefore, can only help to enforce  those non-negotiable rules of your household……those times when no will always remain no.

So whatever your family rules are, be sure to let your children know that there are some that are negotiable some of the time,  and there will be others that  are simply never negotiable.  And remember that whatever you decide at any particular time, be sure to stick to your original decision to avoid being worn down by the tears, tantrums and arguments.

Do you have a clear set of rules in your household that are never negotiable? How are you able to enforce these rules whilst still giving your child a say in other aspects of family life?

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This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Heidi Shaw

    Martine I couldn’t agree with you more. As both a parent and professional working with high risk and vulnerable families, I seem to be always reminding parents that they are just that – parents; not their children’s friends. Yes of course it is possible to be friends with your children but being a parent comes first and of course with that role comes the huge responsibilities that ensure that your children are not only safe but also valued and heard members of the family unit. And yes they will still love you even if you say no to them! It can be a tricky balance but it’s worth it so that they can thrive within the negotiable and non negotiable rules we as parents must set.
    Look forward to your next blog!


    1. Martine

      Absolutely..and I am sure when resources and support are limited, these families will only benefit from the help of people like yourself. And wanting to be our childrens friend is a trap that many people fall into, so it is important for us to always be able to make that distinction.

  2. Caz

    Very sensible approach Martine! Nice to hear a voice of common sense 🙂

  3. Posie Patchwork

    I’m never afraid to say no to my children, for me, as a most-of-the-time-solo mummy, if i didn’t have well disciplined children, they’d overrun me, life would be chaos & incredibly unhappy. Boundaries are very important, how will they ever cope in the teen years & real life?? Love Posie

    1. Martine

      Exactly…boundaries are there for both the parent and the child. When you are doing it on your own it is, i am sure, harder to enforce your rules, especially when you dont have that back up or support from another, however as you stated, even more important for they will only get harder to control as they get older. Sounds like you are doing a great job.

  4. EmmaK

    I suppose I do have a set of rules but they’re pretty lax. They don’t go on the computer at all that way I don’t have to regulate them. ‘I don’t have junk food in the house that way they don’t eat it. I suppose it’s mainly about avoiding pester power. Great post. I’m over from Flog your Blog Friday

    1. Martine

      Thanks Emma, and yes you do have a solid set of rules, you are just enforcing them in a different way. By not having junk food in the house, you are still saying ‘no’ to it but just doing it in a way that avoids the arguments in the first place. And thats gotta make life easier, so well done.

  5. Marita

    We talk about red light / green light behaviour with my girls.

    Red light behaviour is running away, throwing things at mummy in the car, hurting your sister, or hurting anyone else. I’m very firm about those ‘no, that is red light behaviour, you must stop now.’

    Green light behaviour is when they are doing the right thing, asking before going somewhere (eg ‘can I please go to the playground while you talk to me teacher.’) and we encourage Green light behaviour.

    1. Martine

      Some great ideas there Marita.

  6. Glowless

    I really like your non-negotiables. Kids are not always capable of figuring out the consequences before they happen, so things like safety there is no room for negotiation.

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