Break the rules, not their spirits


My mother often calls me, “Miss Law and Order,” not because I work in the legal field, but because, from a young age, I tended to always follow the rules. If my family played a game together, you can bet I observed everyone’s moves closely, lest they attempt to cheat. My mom, who is never one to just go with convention, would chide me for being no fun.

My innate desire for things to abide by a predetermined set of regulations regularly clashes with my desire to let my children engage in free play. I fight my urge to grab the instruction manual and shout, “No, this is how you do it!”

My four-year-old tested me the other day, while we were enjoying a local outdoor festival. The organizers provided some wooden hoops of various sizes along with sticks for twirling or rolling them on the ground. There were also a couple of stakes in the ground in case anyone wanted to play a round of ring toss. My oldest, whose free spirit has always lead him on his own path, began gathering the sticks and inserting them right into the stakes.

My mind began to race. Why is he doing this? Will people think this is weird? Why can’t he just play normally?

I watched him a little more, and realized he was mimicking the work of an artist he interacted with earlier. He was building his own sculpture. He was inspired by the creativity around him.

Curious children began joining in, and soon all worked together to build something new. They forged their own game without any guidance from the adults around them.

My son reminded me it’s ok for kids to break the rules. I don’t mean raising disobedient children or anarchists. Certain rules are in place for their protection and the protection of others. I would never encourage dangerous or harmful behavior.

But, children need to challenge conventions. They need to take risks and push limits.

Let our kids climb up the slide or swing on their bellies. Let them jump three spaces backward when the game says to move forward. Let them color outside the lines and paint purple oceans and magenta trees.

Trust the structure and stability we provide to give them the freedom to explore.

Our little rule-breakers will become world-changers. They are the inventors, the innovators, the hackers and the dreamers. They are our hope.

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