Sticking to the Rules

We have been amazed at how much good parenting information is in children’s picture books – books that we hope you are reading everyday to the children in your lives – your own, your class, those you take care of.  We will be pointing these parenting gems out to you so that every time you read one of our featured books to a child you will be reminded of the parent you want to be.

Featured Picture Book

PIGSTY by Mark Teague

(Available in public libraries or bookstores, including online stores.)

PIGSTY is a book whose main character,Wendell, is struggling to make his own rules.  If he wants his room to be messy, he should be allowed to have it messy.  Of course, Mom has a different idea and starts out trying to insist on a clean room.  Haven’t we all done this at some time or other?  Eventually,Mom appears to give up, “‘Okay, Wendell,’ she said.  ‘If you want to live in a pigsty, that’s up to you.’” And predictably, Wendell was thrilled.  “Wendell could hardly believe his luck.  ‘Now I can live however I want.’”

When Mom gave up insisting that Wendell clean his room, she didn’t realize that he had a group of pig friends staying in his room. Gradually, when Wendell was in charge, he began to notice what a mess the pigs were making. He didn’t like it. “They rolled up his blankets and hogged his pillows, too. …he found footprints on his comic books. …someone had been sitting on his basketball.  And his baseball cards were chewed.”

Being faced with living however he wanted to, Wendell had to now decide whether he could actually live in this pigsty called his room. He decided he didn’t like it after all and complained to his mom.  “‘Sorry,’ she said, ‘but your room is your responsibility.’”  Wendell decided that he who makes a mess should help clean it up, so he and the pigs became a cleaning crew. Maybe the most important thing that Wendell learned was that he did not lose the friendship of his messy pig friends by enforcing rules about a clean room.There’s a lesson in that for parents too!

Parenting Thoughts
What are natural consequences?

What was really happening in this featured book was “natural consequences.”  Mom had been trying to get Wendell to clean his room for quite some time – unsuccessfully.  What finally made the difference?  Letting Wendell experience living in the mess.  I, and many parenting experts, call this “natural consequences.”

Natural consequences mean that something happens automatically as a result of something a child does.  The parent does not create what happens.  It happens naturally without the parent doing anything special. Natural consequences can be a great way to teach a child, but they can also be very challenging.

Sometimes natural consequences are too severe.  In fact, they can be unsafe. For example, we can’t let a child ride a bike in the street to learn that he could get hit by a car or play at the stove to experience the natural consequence of getting burned.  But, for some issues natural consequences can be just what are needed to get the message across – like Wendell’s experience with the messy room or when a child ignores his alarm clock for school, misses the bus and has to walk to school or forgets his lunch and has to wait until after school to eat.  Remember, you must be very careful to only allow consequences to occur naturally if they are safe.

Using logical consequences

Another kind of consequence is not totally “natural” but is “logical.” Logical consequences make sense for the situation. For example, many of you may have a rule that there is no TV until homework is done.If a child chooses to do something other than homework after school, it makes sense (is logical) that no TV is allowed in the evening.Blog4 Sidebar 1

It’s not really a “punishment” you are giving.  It is a logical consequence of the rule that you have established.A logical consequence is a connection between a rule and a result. It is explained to the child in a very direct and understandable way before a rule is broken. Then, when the child has broken the rule, it isn’t about what you are going to do to her because she didn’t do her homework after school.  Instead, it is about what she is going to have to deal with because she chose not to follow a rule.

I am amazed at how creative parents can be at figuring out logical consequences for different situations. It’s not always easy but it is worth the brain power because logical consequences give children lasting lessons. 

Controlling your emotions

And by the way, when you are sticking to the consequences and not letting the child off the hook your reactions should be unemotional.  Be as matter-of-fact as you possibly can be. 

Blog4 Sidebar 2 This is quite different from punishing a child. When you punish it is very hard to be unemotional. I believe that often the reason we punish is because our emotions are taking over our thinking. We just can’t think of something that would work better.  However, with some effort we can train ourselves to be unemotional when sticking with our natural and logical consequences.  For example, when Wendell said, “I’ve had enough!” Wendell’s mom handed Wendell a broom and calmly said she was sorry “‘…but your room is your responsibility.’”

In the homework and TV example, the parent might say, “I’m sorry you can’t watch NCIS tonight,” while calmly turning off the TV. “I’ll check your homework when you are ready. You’ll be done when it is complete and correct.”

What happens if the child gets done quickly and the homework is correct?  The parent and the child can both be glad the task is done.  If the child still has a few minutes left for TV, the parent can be glad for him.  After all, this was not a punishment.  It was a logical consequence, so it should be OK if the child is able to work hard and still have a few minutes of TV time left.

The child will still think twice about whether to do his homework after school because he knows when he does his homework right after school, he gets his TV time for sure.  On the other hand, if he breaks the rule, he is for sure going to miss all or some of his TV time depending on how quickly he can get his homework done and done correctly.  In many ways this rule puts the child in charge of himself and gives him a reason to make a good choice.  I just heard recently about one seven-year-old that calls this being a “good-chooser.”  Love that.

 Making rules fit the child

My friend and mentor, Jean Illsley Clarke,uses a Parenting Road to describe the best and the worst parenting behaviors.  She would consider natural and logical consequences to be discipline that keeps parents in the middle of the road.

The Parenting Road has six lanes.  The two on the far left and the two on the far right are off the road and into the ditch.  They are the ways to parent that we want to avoid.  For example, criticizing a child is into the ditch on the side of the road and abusing a child is completely off the road.  The two lanes in the middle are where we match what the child can handle with rules that fit the child’s age and maturity.  Remember one six-year-old may not be able to handle what another six-year-old can.  They show us what they are able to handle by the choices they make in lots of different situations.  Our job is to pay attention.Blog4

The two lanes in the middle of the road are where we want to be as a parent.  Just like when we drive, we want to do all that we can to stay on track.  To drive safely we need to learn how to drive, stay alert, not use drugs or alcohol, remove distractions, and pay attention to signs of trouble.  The same things could be said about parenting. 

Staying on track where discipline is concerned means having rules that are right for the child’s age and right for the child’s self-control and ability to make good choices.   Also, staying on track with discipline means sticking to the rules.  You might as well not have any rules if you aren’t going to insist they be followed. By the way, having no rules or not enforcing them is a form of abandonment because children need and deserve to have rules that protect them and teach them.  Figuring out the natural consequences of a child’s behavior or some logical consequences for a rule can help us stick to the rules.

I cannot conclude this discussion of sticking to rules without reminding you that Wendell learned that he didn’t lose his friends’ love (those would be the messy pigs) when he enforced the rule about he who makes the mess cleans the mess. You won’t lose your children’s love either.

Blog4 Sidebar4Eventually, your children will benefit when you don’t overindulge them by not sticking to the rules and consequences. Overindulgence is one of the in-the-ditch lanes on the Parenting Road.  It is harmful to kids (actually to all people) just like driving off the road in a car is dangerous and harmful.  No matter how much kids protest, consequences are the way to go. They teach children that they can make mistakes, learn from them and still be loved. 

 DIY (Do-It-Yourself)

Find as many ways as possible to say or act out the following messages with your kids: (Adapted from GROWING UP AGAIN, Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson.

  • You can learn the rules that will help you get along with others.
  • I will not let you hurt yourself or others.
  • You can learn what happens as a result of your behavior.
Read All About It


GROWING UP AGAIN, Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH? Jean Illsley Clarke, Connie Dawson and David J. Bredehoft

PICK UP YOUR SOCKS, Elizabeth Crary


Surf the Internet:



natural consequences

logical consequences


Teacher’s Corner:

Teachers, this is your place. Read all about how to use this blog in your classroom at  the Teacher’s Corner

Here are our newest ideas based on Sticking to the Rules.

  1. Have students create classroom rules.
  2. Have students suggest natural consequences for not following those classroom rules.
  3. Have students suggest logical consequences for not following those rules when natural ones are not appropriate.
  4. Have students read the post and write about their own metaphors.

Parenting is like ….

         Following rules is like ….

2 thoughts on “Sticking to the Rules

  1. Pingback: Decide and Practice 9-16-13 | Picture Book Parenting

  2. Pingback: Bullying. | Picture Book Parenting

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