I’ve learned a thing or two as a parent of adult children.

As parents and leaders, we need to teach our children and our teams how to do things and to be clear about what we expect of them. We need to set boundaries and to enforce those boundaries when the need arises.

People need to know where they stand. It helps them to feel safe.

One of the greatest challenges is working out which boundaries are absolutely non-negotiable and which ones are less important and a guide only.

Because when we enforce rules and boundaries that don’t make sense, seem unnecessarily punitive or are condescending we will get push back – I guarantee it.

Our children (particularly our teenage children) and our staff are not robots; they do not exist to please us or to do what they are told. They have feelings and thoughts and their own belief and values systems. They are less likely than ever before to do what they are told because you are their parent or their boss.  We live in a world where we all have a lot of information at our fingertips, where we can share a story in the blink of an eye. Our society is less hierarchical than ever before. People expect to be treated fairly and with respect.

So it is most likely that they will challenge your ‘dumb’ rules; they will act out and rebel.

And you will probably respond strongly. You will be frustrated, angry, insulted and stressed by their “terrible behaviour”. Chances are you will impose further penalties, turn to some form of disciplinary action. A mini-war will ensue.  

Your charge will probably be thinking about you in the negative. You will return the favour.

You will be watching out for them to do something else that is against the rules and they will start playing with fire and daring you to challenge them further.  

The relationship will deteriorate or go into a stalemate.

So how do we stop this all too familiar pattern of behaviour?


  • We develop the rules with them as much as possible; or we give a clear explanation as to why this is the rule, why it needs to be a non-negotiable


That way your child or staff learn that the rule wasn’t created just to make their life difficult. And we can test out some theories with them. Get them to consider the risks if this rule wasn’t in place. Get them to problem solve a related scenario.  Importantly, you might learn something at the same time. And you might, through this process, even recognise that the rule is over the top.

This process will also make our charges feel valued and respected. They will feel included in the process, and they are way more likely to abide by a rule or a boundary that they have developed.


  • We focus on the behaviour we want


We make a fuss if our child or employee does what we want the way we want them to do it; we don’t give energy the behaviour we don’t want.

For example, we want our employee to complete the Occ Health and Safety forms in a certain way to make sure the documentation meets legislative standards. The employee believes this task is onerous and stops them from getting on with the job. They regularly “forget” to do it or they do it poorly.

So every Monday at your team meeting you give a chocolate frog or make a fuss about the person who was best at completing their paperwork correctly the week before. Let them know how this has added value to the company because they would pass any audit. The staff member might not have done it perfectly but you have to start somewhere.  In due course, you will train all of the staff that this is a non-negotiable and they will do it because they recognise the value of completing the paperwork, even if it is onerous.

Despite everything we know, I constantly see parents and leaders use discipline to change behaviour. It rarely works.

It’s so easy to punish people. To deprive them of their rights and privileges, to dock their pay or whatever nasty thing you can think of to “teach someone a lesson”.

I challenge you to think differently; to bring your people with you. To be on the same team and working towards the same goals and outcomes.

I accept that there are times when it is necessary to impose consequences; particularly if someone is deliberately breaking a non-negotiable rule. We do have to keep people safe, and they have to be standards.

But in the main, our lives and the lives of our children and staff will be significantly less stressful and far more enjoyable if we focus on the positive.

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