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Renegade Rules for Raising Good Kids

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You wouldn't let your kid fire off an F-bomb or hoard the swing, right? But you might be a better parent if you did, says Heather Shumaker, mother of two and author of It's OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids. Shumaker is on a crusade against standard parenting conventions that insist little ones “play nice,” arguing that her rules help kids learn important life lessons. But what do the experts have to say? We asked a few to weigh in.

Renegade rule

Your child can reject a playmate—and vice versa.

The Experts Say

“Taking social risks and coping with rejection are important life lessons,” Shumaker says. Anastasia Gavalas, a 20-year parenting educator and mother of five, agrees. Kind of. “As long as kids are safe and respectful, children have the right to play with whomever they want,” Gavalas says. “Choosing” your child's playmate now may make it harder for him to make good decisions when he's free to make his own choices. So bite the bullet, and invite over that kid who rubs you the wrong way, but do watch how the children interact.

Renegade rule 

Your son can play with dolls, and your daughter can play with trucks.

The Experts Say 

“Gender rules bring shame and confusion to children who follow their instincts and preferences,” says Gavalas. “Parents should take a step back and remain neutral observers as they guide their children into being their best selves.” However, once children turn 5 or 6, “they start feeling peer pressure to engage in gender-specific activities,” says David Hill, M.D., pediatrician, fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and author of Dad to Dad: Parent Like a Pro.

Renegade rule

Roughhousing with friends is healthy.

The Experts Say 

“Friends” is the key word here. Roughhousing can be a healthy part of childhood, but kids who decide to engage must do so with willing partners. Grappling lets kids discover their own limits—and other kids' limits—in a real way. But parents should intercede if one child (or both) seems unhappy. “If it's the result of anger or frustration, parents must step in,” says Diane Levin, professor of early-childhood education at Wheelock College and author of The War Play Dilemma. But if they're just rolling around wrestling and laughing, it's OK.

Renegade rule 

Let him swear.

The Experts Say

“Censorship rarely works,” says Shumaker. “Kids love to say bad words. Let them do it in a designated space.” Shumaker suggests defusing the bad language by giving them an explanation of the word. However, Levin doesn't think kids should swear under any circumstance. Her advice: Calmly say “If you're trying to get my attention, you can say ‘Mom, I need you.’”

Renegade rule 

War games are fine.

The Experts Say 

The jury is out when it comes to war play. Some psychologists believe it perpetuates violence; others see it as a safe way to engage in pretend play and explore the difference between fantasy and reality. But even if your child's role-playing involves evil plots, it isn't a likely sign he will grow up to be Napoleon. If violent play concerns you, invest in toys and objects that encourage imagination, suggests Levin. That way, a child can decide how it will be used in play. A paper-towel tube can be a bazooka or a telescope. But a sword is a sword is a sword.

Renegade rule 

It's OK not to share.

The Experts Say 

“Parents often force children into giving up things before they have finished playing,” Gavalas says, which always ends poorly. Indulge long turns whenever possible. (But a kid bullying his way onto one of the swings is a different story.) Let your child know ahead of time what's expected in certain settings. Long turns may be entertained at home, but time limits are more realistic in school or on playdates. Give warnings about when they'll need to give up their toys.

For example, say “When the big hand gets on the five, you'll have to give the toy back to Sarah.”

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