Naughty but nice

Can you break the rules sometimes, and still be a ‘good’ parent? Of course you should be able to be naughty and have some fun with your child every now and again – don’t beat yourself up about it! Read our expert advice.


Parents are often reminded of the importance of being consistent with children. Here are some scenarios which show when it’s okay break the rules, and when you need to keep them.

My daughter is desperate to have a pair of heels to wear to a wedding next month. She is five years old and my husband is dead against it! But would it really do any harm?

Dressing up is what girls do well and joining in the fun is something that five-year-olds are keen to do. Dressing-up shoes are great, but at five your daughter knows they’re not the real thing.

The problem is whether she will still want to wear those heels after the wedding. You need to consider if you would be comfortable with that: if you are, then let her try them on and try to walk in them for 10 minutes! Chances are, she’ll change her mind right away.

We all remember being allowed to wear something ‘grown up’ when we were little and how important it was for us. Is there something you want her to change – such as stopping biting her nails or giving up her snugly when she goes in the car? If so, this may be the chance to give her an incentive to do just that – providing that you and your husband can agree and she can walk in the heels during the wedding without her feet hurting!

In many cultures it’s the norm for children to sleep with their parents.

Harry loves to creep into our bed during the night when he wakes up. Is that really so bad as we have a lovely cuddle together?

The short answer to this is that if you don’t mind being woken up, then it isn’t a problem. In many cultures it’s the norm for children to sleep with their parents. You don’t say how old Harry is or how often this happens. Parents may not mind a younger child joining them occasionally, but be less happy as the child gets older or if it happens frequently. If you are becoming sleep deprived, there are some excellent books offering expert advice on children’s sleep difficulties.

Four-year-old Max is a delight but when he gets tired he looks for his dummy. My mother keeps telling me this will ruin his teeth and his speech and I should break him of the habit now. Is she right?

Dummies and pacifiers have been around for over 2000 years so your son is certainly not in the minority! There is research to suggest that regular dummy use for long periods every day can affect the development of speech. But if he is just using the dummy to help him settle down to sleep this is less of a worry.

Most children stop dummy use by the age of three or four, so he may get teased by other children if he continues. If you want to encourage hin to stop, link this with him being a bigger boy. Hiding it away altogether in a ‘secret’ place, just in case, may not stop him asking for it. Many parents suggest giving the dummy to someone he really likes, as a right of passage, once he is old enough to manage without it.

We have a ‘dinner at the table’ rule but sometimes I wish I could cuddle up with my daughter on the settee and have a TV dinner when we are alone together. Can this be a special treat or is it giving her all the wrong signals?

Eating together as a family is so important for children as it makes them feel included. They learn conversational skills, table manners and good social behaviour, and in families worldwide it is considered crucial family time.

If you have that routine firmly in place, you can both have a treat by breaking the rule as long as you explain to your daughter that this is a special occasion. Having fun by being ‘naughty’ together like this is good for bonding. A TV dinner with a takeaway is often seen as an adult treat and children love to be allowed to join in. So go ahead and enjoy yourselves, but don’t let it become the way your child usually eats her meals.

Children learn the value of things when they have to work and save for them.

Joshua is desperate for a pair of the trainers his friends are all wearing. I feel mean saying no but they are really expensive and I’m not sure he appreciates this. What should I do?

Buying the most expensive and on-trend stuff for Joshua on a regular basis isn’t a good idea as it won’t help him to learn the value of money. But if he works toward getting these trainers by helping you at home and saving up, or he uses his pocket/birthday/Christmas money towards the cost, this can be a useful lesson. Children learn the value of things when they have to work and save for them.

Get the money for the trainers out in cash ( coins not notes) so he can see how much it is and then get him to count out the money with you. He can then decide if he will put his money in to buy them. Some children change their mind while others take really good care of something that they have learnt to value because of its cost and the effort they put in to get it.

Very young children can’t wait weeks, so keep the waiting and saving time to within two or three weeks or he may give up. Counting and saving the money each week is a great way of teaching maths in a practical way – learning about the value of things.

Annabelle is really strong willed and won’t take no for an answer. She always wants to have the last word. She is only four but if this carries on I feel as if I will go mad. Can’t I just say ‘no’ without having to explain why all the time?

Rather than just saying ‘no’ try to establish a rule for the situation beforehand. Explain this rule to your daughter, then stick to it. For the future, stick to the rule rather than getting involved in a discussion about the situation. If you make the mistake of saying ‘no’ then change your mind later, or even worse your partner says ’yes’, your daughter may never step down because she will learn that arguing with you works in her favour.

Set a rule like: ‘You can only have a biscuit when we get home if you’ve been good when we are shopping’. Then try out the rule with your child as a role play, such as playing shops. Acting out the role will help her to discover what will be okay and what won’t get her the biscuit – such as whining in the shop.

Learning to go to a different house and get to sleep in different surroundings is really helpful

Am I being selfish by taking my twins out with us when we go for dinner to friends? They are 12 months old and settle to sleep easily in their travel cots. We have a good group of friends who all have young children and we take turns to go to each other’s houses with all the children sleeping upstairs while we catch up on some adult time downstairs. But my mum says it isn’t fair and our boys need to be left to sleep in their own beds, not dragged around with us.

‘Unless you are doing this several nights each week, it won’t do your twins any harm. Learning to go to a different house and get to sleep in different surroundings is really helpful and it sounds like your boys have already got the hang of it.

As they get older they will have an easy introduction to sleepovers with friends and be much more adaptable. This is a great arrangement as long as they are not being woken up and then cannot settle when you pick them up to take them home. Maybe your mother was just hoping you would ask her to babysit instead?


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