Following (and setting!) the rules
by Elissa Haden Guest
pictures by Abigail Halpin
Rules of behavior, setting limits or whatever the popular buzzword is now, is a topic that has been a popular part of conversation whenever parents get together and discuss the role of parenting. It can lead to some pretty lively discussions depending on the parenting style of the people involved. Some parents, shall we say, opt for a more laissez faire approach when it comes to the setting of rules around the house and especially of the behavior of young ones. Others take a more absolutist approach with rules set in stone and no wiggle room. I’ve heard differing approaches termed authoritative as opposed to authoritarian. Whatever way your home leans as regards rules, I’m sure you’ll enjoy “Bella’s Rules”. It is not only a good story filled with evenhanded mixtures of recognizable reality regarding head shaking behaviors, but also equal measures of humor and wisdom. And, it opens the door for sometimes necessary conversation with your child about the making and setting of rules, why they make life for everyone easier and why the arbitrary making and breaking of them by kids can sometimes lead to chaotic situations. Did I tread lightly there? I hope so.
I love Grandmas! They carry the wisdom of generational experience and have seen it all and wear the mantle of authority lightly – after all, they get to leave! Thus, when young Bella, a flouter of rules and a maker of her own has her world weary, sleep deprived parents at wits end and Sammy the Babysitter literally begging with hands clasped for Bella to go night-night, you know things have got to change. Lest you think I am being too harsh with Bella, here are samples of Bella’s Rules as opposed to Family Rules.
No yelling indoors.
No painting on paintings.
No scaling the bookcase.
Doesn’t seem harsh or unreasonable, right?
Candy for breakfast.
No washing your hair. Ever. Only one allowed is mud shampoo.
No such thing as bedtime.
Hmmm. Wild, risky and rude is the description of Bella’s behavior to Sammy the Babysitter whose smile is a mile wide as he flees to his own home for rest and safety post Bella. Solution? A quick call to Grandma that night and a plea for a visit. She shows up with a present for Bella. A PUPPY. A small UNTRAINED puppy who initially makes Bella laugh, eating brussel sprouts she drops, batting balls she throws and generally making her laugh. Hey, this is great. Bella has a new best friend. But whoa Nellie! Is that MY cupcake the puppy ate? Did he just knock me down? Are those muddy paw prints on my favorite pink bedspread? And what about my Teddy? He is not to be unstuffed in a tug o’ war! Suddenly, it’s “Mean dog!” and “You’re not my friend ANYMORE.”
Role reversal is a hard thing for Bella to bear as is the old, “shoe on the other foot”.
But all is not lost in this every family conundrum. Some rule setting for the new pup can harness his natural exuberance as in a few new guideline settings:
No jumping up on the counter.
No peeing indoors.
No chewing on Teddy or bunny or blankie.
Little by little Puppy learns the rules and by her experience, as a sort of surrogate parent, so does Bella. Bella learns from her own little rule breaker of a pet that rules are guidelines that may occasionally be strayed from, but that in the end, they’re necessary for a beautiful friendship to flourish. And it does.
Do you have a Bella at home? This may be the book, the time and the teachable moment to begin the discussion with a story and lively, perhaps recognizable scenarios of illustrations, that will put a smile on your face and your young reader’s. Ah peace! But, should it be peace by capitulation? Heavens no! Grandma, you knew it all along, you smarty you.
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