The importance of setting standards

All parents want their children to be well-behaved and to set an example at school, the doctor's and with the family. However, to achieve this, you need to set a consistent set of standards, based on respect and understanding, which children need to learn.

For children to become sociable, independent and tolerant people, and to know how to behave correctly in their social environment, it is vital that their parents set a series of limits from the time they are young and give them guidelines for behaviour.

Parents cannot stand behind their children throughout their lives to ensure that they act appropriately. Therefore, the first aim of these standards is to give children the ability for self-control, so they can cope as they get older.

Imposing limits involves highlighting a series of reference points throughout children's development to help them and guide them in their growth as people. They need a guiding authority – in this case their parents – to make sure they don't overstep these limits. This authority is usually lost when parents try to convince their children of what to do from the position of a friend. This almost never works and makes it increasingly difficult to impose standards with credibility.

The ideal is to find a middle ground between being excessively authoritarian and too permissive. The balance is found when parents are loving when they can be and firm when required. Reaching this point requires respect between both parties and well-established rules of cohabitation.

The importance of standards for children

  • Establishing standards makes children feel secure. Knowing what they can and can't do, and the line they mustn't overstep, gives them peace of mind in their actions. Establishing some routines at home also gives them the certainty that they are going to be looked after when they need it and that their needs will be met.
  • If they are given some behavioural guidelines when young, as they grow they will know how to differentiate between good and bad and it will be easier for them to avoid bad behaviour. It will also help them create their own value scale to decide what's valid and what's invalid for the rest of their lives.
  • Setting standards at home will also help children meet these standards in the outside world and adjust to life in society. Some clear limits help children adapt to new situations, such as starting kindergarten or school, meeting other children, going to the doctor, behaving themselves in a restaurant and so on.
  • They help a life based on respect and tolerance to oneself and to others. Children will learn to behave well and to be better people.
  • Establishing what they can't do and having them assume this will help them deal with feelings of frustration when things don't always go as they would like throughout their lives.

What should the standards be?

Educating children takes time and, however much we set standards and limits, they will not behave perfectly overnight. You should not be overly strict or humiliate your child if at first he does not listen to you. Your job is to guide them slowly towards working out for themselves what they should and shouldn't do, all the while establishing an open dialogue in a trusting and respectful environment.

The standards or limits should follow a series of guidelines:

  • They should be consistent and fair, based on the child's needs.
  • Adjust the limits according to the child's age and establish guidelines that he can understand. Create simple, concise rules.
  • Let your child experiment a little, with the opportunity to make choices sometimes. Above all, don't impose yourself.
  • Parents' behaviour affects that of their children. Make sure there are no contradictions.
  • The standards should be positive – avoid always saying no to everything.
  • You need to control your temper and never humiliate or ridicule your child.
  • The standards and limits should be clear, as should the consequences of not meeting them.
  • You should be firm and remember that it is the parents' job to teach and educate their children, not to be their friends.
  • In the same way that bad behaviour should be punished, always reward achievements and respect of the limits.

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