No Rules = No Boundaries?

If you watched Channel 4’s documentary, Feral Families on Thursday 26th October, and have never come across the ideas of positive/unconditional parenting or unschooling before, you would be forgiven for thinking that “no-rules-families” (btw, this isn’t a “thing”, no one uses this term. I have no idea why the filmmakers went with it – oh, yeah, sensationalism) have no boundaries and no discipline.

The narrator said this several times.

But I saw boundaries in the programme and I would bet my right arm that each family featured uses some form of discipline at times – it just might look completely different to the kind you would see in an authoritarian household.

Discipline has come to be synonymous with punishment.

But I would like to point out that rules are not the same as boundaries, and discipline is perfectly possible without punishment.

**This post contains affiliate links. You never pay more for anything you buy after following a link, but I may make a small commission that helps me to continue to bring you top quality content**No rules parenting, or unschooling, does not mean no boundaries or no discipline

What Are Rules and Boundaries?

Let’s check the dictionary, shall we?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “rule” as:

One of a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct or procedure within a particular area of activity.

With the synonyms: regulation, ruling, directive, order, court order, act, law, by-law, statute, edict, canon, ordinance, pronouncement, mandate, command, dictate, dictum, decree, fiat, proclamation, injunction, commandment, prescription, stipulation, requirement, precept, guideline, direction.

Boundary, on the other hand, is defined as:

1.1 often boundaries A limit of something abstract, especially a subject or sphere of activity.
‘a community without class or political boundaries’

With the synonyms: dividing line, divide, division, borderline, demarcation line, line of demarcation, cut-off point, threshold, limits, parameters, bounds, outer limits, confines, extremities, barriers, thresholds.

They’re quite different, aren’t they?

They have different dictionary definitions and different real-world use too, different connotations.

I am in no way attempting to speak for any family other than my own here. If you disagree, I welcome respectful debate in the comments section. But what follows is an examination of my beliefs and the way our family works.

Unconditional Parenting

So, we parent positively, unconditionally, gently, respectfully. Pick a term. They all apply. The husbeast and I are not authoritarian by nature, well, not much. We certainly don’t believe that as parents our primary role is to rule over our children like monarchs over subjects. We don’t believe that our children are our property, we don’t own them. We believe that our children are individual humans with rights.

A revolutionary concept to some people, yes, but to us, it is simply common sense.
I really wish Feral Families had actually explored this concept properly, as I did feel it left the viewer with little better grasp of this parental philosophy than at the start. So let me try to explain what it means to parent in this way:

Far less catchy, but it might be more apt to say that families like ours avoid arbitrary rules. We tend to steer clear of the word “rules” in general because of the connotations attached. As I suggested above, the words “rules” and “boundaries” have different connotations, they feel different. To me, rules are fixed, immovable, inflexible and rigid. They are prescriptive and unresponsive.

Boundaries can change to suit changing circumstances, such as a child growing up. Boundaries are guidelines to help everybody grasp where the edges are, and within the playing field, they are free to roam.

This is the heart of our style of parenting.

We value freedom and exploration. But most importantly, we value respect. If we want our children to respect us, then we, as the adults with more life experience, must model respect by respecting our children.

It’s Not Cricket – Except When It Is

I can’t help but picture a cricket pitch (hubby will be proud to read this). Ok, so in case you aren’t familiar (hi there, American readers! I see you!) the boundary of a cricket pitch is a very long rope. It lies around the field of play and if the ball goes over it, the batting side gets extra runs (points). But it’s a rope, not a painted line. Guess what it does from time to time… it moves. It can get knocked, nudged, lifted, shifted. Got juniors playing on the field? Bring the boundaries in a bit. It makes the game fairer. They can’t be expected to hit the ball as far as the best adults in the country. Can they?

The boundary rope in cricket is much like parenting boundaries!

Do you know what else they do in cricket? The fielding team moves around. They don’t have fixed positions that they stay in for the entire innings. The bowler is planning a few short balls? He lets his teammates know so they can adjust their positions based on where the batsman is likely to end up directing the ball. There is all this flexibility in a game of cricket.

Fifteen years ago I would never have believed you if you told me that. I saw cricket as a long, boring game with TOO MANY RULES.

Well, do you know what? That’s what I think of traditional parenting now.

Do this, do that, go to bed, eat this, do it my way or the highway.

Nope, not for my kids. Giving orders, expecting compliance without taking the time to reason with or explain anything to children is utterly disrespectful of their autonomy and personhood.

I choose to respect them. I choose to give them choices and freedom. Do you know what happens when you do that? They are a) happy, and b) don’t go batshit crazy with rebellion as soon as they can.

Call me nuts, but I’d quite like my boys to have an open and trusting relationship with me when they hit their teens. I know?! Crazy, right? I actually want them to feel they can come talk to me if they have a problem.

When you have flexible, adaptable boundaries and everyone in the family understands the values (in place of rules) that you share, then you have more harmony, fewer battles, fewer upsets.

What is “Well-Behaved” Anyway?!

I’ve been told several times this week that my kids are extremely well-behaved. It’s cropped up repeatedly in a few short days for some reason. Part of me is thinking ”yeah, right now, but you’re not with them all the time! They have their moments!” Of course they do, they are kids! They have upsets, they have disagreements and they are still learning – they are kids!

Do adults never get overwhelmed by their emotions? Do adults never fall out with one another? Of course they do. But does that make them “badly behaved?” Hardly. “Bad behaviour” in adults might include: breaking the law, public drunkenness, being rude.

I’ve been pondering what is meant by the people who choose to praise my kids in this way. I’ve been reflecting on what behaviour they have seen that leads them to say this, and what behaviour they might be comparing it to in order to reach the judgement that my kids are doing it “well”.

I hope it’s safe to say that my kids have never been drunk in public (or private – stop it!), nor have they broken any laws. But I’m not sure these well-meaning adults who have been describing my kids as “well behaved” lately would be referring to these behaviours. It’s pretty typical in our culture to have expectations that children should, in public at least, behave like “well-behaved” adults.

Children are not supposed to run or make noise; or show emotions such as frustration, anger, pain or upset. Happiness and joy are acceptable, as long as they don’t get too exuberant. These things would, I presume, be considered to be “bad behaviour”, rather than drunkenness or anything too extreme.

In general, I can say that my children tend to be kind, happy and responsive (well, not so much the Monkey. He’s going through that phase when many parents resort to getting their kid’s hearing checked because they never seem to bloody hear a word you say). Is this what people mean by “well-behaved”? I think it might be.

Does this mean that the behaviour they are used to from children is very different? Are their children or grandchildren far more prone to public drunkenness than mine? *joke*

Are the children they encounter more frequently sullen? Frustrated? Defiant? Are those children parented in a more mainstream way? Yeah, they probably are (law of averages).

Discipline – The Art of Learning

So we come back around to those rules and discipline again. Do lots of rules, and punishment for breaking them, result in “well-behaved” children?

There is actually quite a bit of evidence on this, which is far beyond the scope of this blog post. But the definitive answer is “no”. You might have seen this coming. This isn’t just my kids, or one or two other families that we know of. This is widespread and backed by studies.

People who grow up with lots of rules, rewards and punishments are prone to lack solid intrinsic motivation. This means, once they are free from that restrictive household, they aren’t able to live up to the standards set by those rules etc.

Alfie Kohn cites lots of research on this in his book, Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason. I highly recommend ALL parents and parents-to-be read this book. They should give it out to expectant mums when they first register with the midwife!

So, I know what you’re thinking. “That’s all well and good, but what do I do when my kid won’t put his damn shoes away if I can’t stick him on the naughty step any more?”

First of all, is it truly important that your kid picks up their shoes? How old is the kid? What’s the worst that could happen if they leave their shoes in the middle of the hall/doorway/stairs?

I picked this example because this is something we are working on with the Monkey right now. Is it truly important? Well, not in a life-or-death way, no, actually. But it is a courtesy that I think matters. What’s the worst that could happen? Someone could trip on them. He could grow up to be the kind of guy who never picks up after himself and ends up either being nagged by his partner, or alone because a string of people leave him because of his filthy habits. So yeah, I do kind of want him to just pick up his shoes and put them on the damn shoe rack, that’s what it’s there for.

He’s five, going on six. He’s definitely capable of putting his shoes away. But does he really get why he should? Not so much. He’s not thinking about what life will be like when he’s thirty. He’s just come running in from going bonkers outside. He’s running to grab a drink or flop out on the sofa to catch his breath.

Is it appropriate to punish him for this? For perfectly normal, five-year-old behaviour with absolutely no malice behind it?

Punishment is to make someone deliberately suffer in retribution for their actions.

Is that ever appropriate in a parent-child relationship?

No, in my opinion, it isn’t.

My role, as a parent, is to guide my children, to help them learn. How can I effectively lead them to learn if I am consumed with forcing them to bend to my will? How will they learn if they are never allowed to make mistakes and then seek solutions for them? To me, discipline is not about punishing my child, i.e. making them suffer, it is about giving them the opportunity to learn.

So when the Monkey leaves his shoes in the hall, what am I to do? First of all, I let him know that he has done this by saying what I see: “I see shoes lying on the floor where they could be tripped over.” Often, this is enough to get him to come back and put them away. Sometimes it isn’t. So I go to him and get down to his level and tell him that I would like him to go and put his shoes away. I remind him that in our family, we value thoughtfulness and that someone could get hurt if he leaves his shoes where they are.

That will do it, 99.99% of the time.

There is no “need” for punishment. What good would yelling do? What would it teach him?

In her book, Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, Rebecca Eanes goes into great detail about positive discipline and about creating family values. It’s another must-read. Along with How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Faber & Mazlish. Both books are packed with practical, actionable steps to help you move away from punitive, authoritarian, “doing to” parenting, towards a more positive and “working with” style.

Feral Families?

To wrap this up, what I saw in Feral Families, were three families that focus on boundaries, rather than rules; working with, rather than doing to; and more positive and harmonious lives than many traditional families can boast.

One of the parents explained that it was important for her kids to be safe – that’s a boundary. As she said it, the baby in her arms reached for the knife she had just been using. The mother moved the knife out of reach, laughed and reiterated to the camera about safety. This clip seems to have caused a stir on the internet, but what I saw was in no way shocking, terrible or warranting social services being involved, something some ignorant buffoons with too much time on their hands have been braying for since the program aired. What is wrong with a mother moving a knife out of reach of her child?

Or perhaps viewers took issue with the toddler wandering around the picnic with a blunt pallet knife at the end of the program? This was not a knife for cutting. It was a tool with no sharp edges for serving cake. This is so far from dangerous I can’t even fathom any possible objection.

I could talk at length about allowing children autonomy and the chance to take risks, but I feel that may be another post. So I’ll leave it there for now.

Do please let me know in the comments what you thought of the programme, or of my thoughts on this subject.

Planning a Florida Vacation! – 7 Months To Go – It’s Not All About Disney!

So, as some of you may know, my family is somewhat obsessed with going to Florida. We went when the Munchkin was a toddler and the Bean was a baby. We went again a few years later, and we are planning another trip next year!

I absolutely LOVE planning these holidays. I love the magic of Walt Disney World and the epic fun of Universal Orlando. I spend hours and hours in between vacations browsing Pinterest, reading Disney blogs, watching vlogs and everything. It brings me so much joy! But it is also extremely practical because this kind of vacation takes an enormous amount of planning and if it’s your first time, it can get overwhelming.

So, I decided to share the obsessive planning magic, and write a blog series to guide other families through this process, from start to finish, in real time.


Walt Disney World WDW planning a Florida vacation holiday

One year is really the ideal time-frame in which to plan a holiday of this magnitude, especially if you are travelling to Florida from outside the United States, like we are. About twelve months out from travelling is when many of the offers are announced and the most popular accommodation can book up this far in advance too.

It is possible to grab a late bargain, of course, and if this is how your family rolls, then that’s terrific, go for it! But this series probably won’t be for you. This is one for the planners, the organisers, the folks who want or need to get their travel plans firmed up well in advance.

You can catch up with this series here:

  1. 12 Months – Initial Planning
  2. 11 Months – Accommodation
  3. 10 Months – Dining Plan
  4. 9 Months – Saving Up & Booking Flights
  5. 8 Months – Fit for Florida!

7 Months To Go: Must-Do Attractions – It’s Not All About Disney!

I’m going to cover touring plans next month when I’ll also be guiding you through making your advanced dining reservations. But for this month, the focus is on narrowing down the things we want to do on this trip.

I started by quickly assessing what had worked and what didn’t work on our previous Florida vacations.

We’ve been twice and still not been to the Kennedy Space Centre, for example, despite it being something we’d talked about both times. We had even scheduled a day for it last time but ended up changing our plans due to the weather. We’re determined to make it this time.

We’ve still yet to get all the way around Epcot World Showcase and have tended to eat at the same restaurants each time too. So we want to get some more variety into this trip. I have already researched all of the dining options around all of Walt Disney World and created a shortlist (which is still really long – haha!) of places to eat. I made sure to do this nice and early due to the aforementioned Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs), which guests staying on-site can book 180 days prior to arrival. For us, that’s next month!

We’ve also not been to SeaWorld on previous trips because we were boycotting them due to their unethical orca program. I was pleased to learn about SeaWorld ending the breeding program and orca shows, in favour of a “natural encounter”. However, the majestic animals are dying in rather disturbing numbers at the San Diego centre, so I think we’ll still need to give this park, and those owned by them, a miss this time. This includes Busch Gardens, Aquatica and Discovery Cove. One day, when SeaWorld has cleaned up its act, we will choose to spend our money there.


Universal Studios Orlando, main gate

(c) H.B. Lyne 2015

I have to confess, despite my love of Disney, and us choosing to stay at a WDW resort, my favourite theme park in Orlando, is actually Universal Islands of Adventure! Parts of Universal also rank in the top 2 or 3 attractions for our kids.

This is in no small part down to the epic scope and detail of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Split into two areas; one at Universal Studios, the other at IOA, connected via a ride on the Hogwarts Express, this amazing experience is an absolute must for any fan of the books or movies. The detail is exquisite, the rides are epic, the shops are amazing and the whole experience is worth the huge park ticket fee on its own.

On our first trip in 2012, the Munchkin spent one delighted, if wet afternoon going on the Flight of the Hippogriff ride over and over again while there was no queue!

In 2015, the highlight was the the Jurassic Park area, in particular, the River Adventure ride. I also have a massive sweet spot for the Suess Landing area of IOA, which is packed with lovely references to the books and has some of the most fun rides for the whole family of any theme park in the area. When in a silly mood, our family will still sometimes burst into spontaneous singing of the song from the One Fish, Two Fish ride!

Universal Islands of Adventure, Florida, Seuss Landing

We’ll be allowing 4 days for Universal, as they also have a water park now, Volcano Bay. With the Park-to-Park ticket, you can move between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure as much as you like throughout the day. This is definitely worth doing, as it gives you access to the Hogwarts Express and then you can assess queue times and adjust your touring plan based on crowd levels across the two parks, travelling back and forth to find the shortest lines.

Universal doesn’t offer guests any free Express Passes. You have to pay extra for these and the price is extremely steep, which is a major gripe I have with the parks. The price is simply going to be out of reach for a significant proportion of families, giving the wealthy a very different park experience to everyone else.

Disney gives every guest 3 FastPasses, with guests staying on site able to book them 60 days in advance. If you’re staying at some of Universal’s resorts you do also get the Express Pass included. So if Universal is your primary destination, rather than Walt Disney World, and you can afford one of the more luxurious resorts, then this perk is going to add heaps of value to your stay. It’s probably worth booking the better resort rather than one of the cheaper ones just for this, to be honest.

Universal is absolutely doable without the Express Pass, but you will have to be prepared to give some rides a miss or wait in 60-90 minute lines for a few of them. But with the app on your phone, you can keep an eye on wait times and dash about the park to jump into the shorter lines.

With young children, I’m not prepared to wait in a line longer than 30 minutes. It’s a waste of our valuable time in the parks.

Some other options for families trying to fit in as many rides as possible include:

  • Single Rider lines: these are usually much shorter than the main queue. So if you don’t mind splitting up for some rides, this can be an effective way to save time.
  • Parent Swap: for the bigger rides that your kids are too small for, parents can take advantage of the opportunity to wait in a special area near the exit with the kids while one parent rides, then when they exit the ride, the other parent can go straight on without having to stand in line.

Plan Your Top Picks

Now is a good time to look at park maps online and research things like height limits so you can start putting together a bucket list of individual attractions and dining experiences.

Disney announces park opening hours around 7 months ahead (any day now for us) so you can see which days the parks have Extra Magic Hours.

There is some debate over what to do about EMH in the WDW planning world! Some bloggers recommend avoiding the parks with EMH as the crowds are typically higher. While others suggest taking advantage of these longer hours in order to get the most value out of your park tickets.

I’m somewhere in the middle. What we found worked really well was booking a character breakfast inside a park with early opening. That way we get in well ahead of the queues and can get on a (gentle!) ride or two early before the crowds arrive after we’ve filled up on a good meal. Then we leave the park to chill out at the hotel or head to a different park for a while.

Likewise, the evening EMHs mean you can stay away during the heat of the day, then head back for the evening and enjoy the different atmosphere, watch the nighttime shows and events and ride some rides in the dark!

Once you know which parks have EMH on which days, and whether you want to attend or avoid the parks during these times, then you can make a rough plan for which parks to attend on which days. That way, when your ADRs become available you already know which restaurants you want to secure bookings for on which days and for which meals.

I plan our entire trip around these reservations because some of them are hard to come by! Cinderella’s Royal Table, for example, notoriously books out very quickly. So come countdown day 180, I will be at my computer with my list, ready to book as soon as the bookings open up for day 1 of our trip!!

On that note, I’m now going to give you a sneak peek at my Trello board for planning this vacation.

Trello board for planning a Florida vacation

This is my board. I have a column on the left for key dates to remember in our planning schedule.

Then a list for each park (not all pictured above). I’ve assigned coloured labels for each park to help see at a glance which park is detailed in which list. These labels will then come in useful in later lists for planning which park/s to do on which days.

In each list, I have cards for rides, attractions, dining and character meets for each park; both for old favourites and new things we want to prioritise this time.

Trello board for Orlando holiday planning

This is what a card looks like. A quick description of what’s on the card, followed by a checklist of rides we want to try.

Trello board for planning an Orlando vacation at Walt Disney World and Universal

On a Trello board, you create as many lists as you need, scrolling to the right to see more. This is the next section over. You can see the rest of our destinations here.

Trello planning board for our Florida holiday

Scrolling further over to the right, I have created lists for each day of our vacation and listed a preliminary destination on each card, although these are almost certain to change once we know the park opening hours.

As we add dining reservations and fast passes to our schedule, new cards will go into each list detailing our touring plans.

That about wraps up the planning for this month! Thanks for reading. I hope this post has been useful. Next month I’ll be going into greater depth on booking those Advanced Dining Reservations, and my top picks for places to eat.

Next Month: Advanced Dining Reservations

Planning a Florida vacation - It's not all about Disney! Universal, other Orlando attractions, planning your top things to do