Despite advances in artificial intelligence, what still distinguishes a computer from a person is self-learning. A person can learn independently. An computer has to be given information to put out information.

Humans are inherently creative—we can come up with novel and useful ideas. But the question is, “How do you raise kids to be more human and less like a robot?”

If you teach your kids to receive information instead of teaching themselves, then you end up with a robot-like result. Whereas if you stress self-learning and creativity, then you differentiate your kids from computers in the most significant way, and make your kids employable for years to come.

Get rid of most of the your household rules.
Parents who had fewer rules at home raised more creative kids. Wondering how many rules is “fewer”? One. One rule. I put my own household to this test. And I started wondering if “take your shoes off when you come in the house” count as a rule if you live on a pig farm?

And I found myself taking solace in the day my younger son asked me why he never gets grounded. I think he saw it like braces—something big kids do that he wants to be a part of. But regardless, his perception of our household is that there are very few rules.

Downplay self-discipline.
Instead of teaching kids self-discipline we should teach them to decide when to follow the expected path and when to ignore the expectations. Alfie Kohn calls it moderation.

Another way to look at it is that grit is obsessive self-discipline, and refusal to disengage. Whereas deciding whether to exhibit perseverance is a more important skill. And it’s an inherently creative skill since you need to make up your life instead of following a proscribed path.

Stress the importance of taking criticism.
Research presented in the Harvard Business Review finds that good self-learners are people who can hear criticism calmly. And then—instead of taking it as gospel—evaluate it even-handedly and decide if the criticism is right or wrong. If the criticism is right, a g00d self-learner can take action.

Reward the child who does not want to be told what to learn.
The most creative kids are those who feel personally insulted when they are told what to think about. Creativity is the ability to produce novel and useful ideas. We each have the skill, to some degree. But these are traits that are preconditions for high creativity: independence, self confidence, risk-taking, internal locus of control, tolerance for ambiguity. Note these are all traits that one needs to subdue in order to get through conventional schooling. Which is another reason why kids who do poorly in school do so well in adult life.


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21 replies
  1. mh
    mh says:

    A great trick for homeschool parents is to call in “sick” for a while. You get to find out what your kids learn without you there. It’s a lot.

  2. Tina
    Tina says:

    This seems so contradictory to many of your other links and posts. So, self-discipline is irrelevant? No more chores for kids?

    I’m all for supporting kids in what they want to do, but this only one rule thing is troubling. What constitutes as a rule? If I require my kids to do chores (like clean up their own messes and make their bed), is that one rule or one rule for each chore? Does don’t hit your brother constitute a rule?
    I don’t get it.

    I work really hard to let my kids have a lot of freedom, based on calling a schedule for bedtime a “rule” we have tons of rules.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah. I’m wondering the same thing: what constitutes a rule.

      I have a feeling that parents think some things are just obvious and non-negotiable. Like, no killing people is a rule in all families, but it’s so non-negotiable that it doesn’t register as a rule.

      I think we each have tons of rules that we think are not really limiting to the kids because they are so obviously non-negotiable. For me that’s taking off boots, for example. But I also have a feeling that those rules add up fast, and that the parents who have the most rules probably don’t think they have a lot of rules.


      • Tina
        Tina says:

        I think this whole creativity thing skews towards Ps. And Ps can only be really creative if they have parents who are Ps and let them run free? Clearly, I am a J.

        There seems to be so much missing information here. How did they define creative? And if these are kids going to school, maybe it’s ok for homeschoolers to have a few more rules because the kids don’t go to school.

        Or maybe it’s because I’m a J and this does not feel like it suits my parenting style. So, I’ll ignore it because I can’t be who I’m not.

        • Caitlin Timothy
          Caitlin Timothy says:

          Tina, I’m interested in the J/P difference here, too. I’m a hard “J”, but look like a “P” when it comes to minutia- like certain aspects of child routines because they’re so boring to me. I’m structured in my expectations (the toddler may NOT play with the trash can) and big picture direction , but regimenting all her activities is really uninteresting to me.

          I do think that creativity isn’t a “P” thing- it’s a people thing. Both my husband and I, as IN_Js, struggled a lot with too many rules growing up and felt our personalities were trampled down, though we felt that in different ways (I’m an “F”, so I was sensitive, and he’s an “T”, so he was frustrated all the time). As adults, we have lots of expectations, but they don’t feel like rules.

      • Sarah Pierzchala
        Sarah Pierzchala says:

        This is really thought provoking! I LOVE the way you think, Penelope!

        One of the young priests at our parish recently recommended that folks have as few rules as possible in their homes, because kids are just going to try and get around them, anyway.

        I’m thinking that if something can be stated in a POSITIVE way, rather than a NEGATIVE, it might be more inspiring and therefore more successful…something as basic as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, could apply to almost every aspect of family life and routine, when you think about it…

      • Teach By Type
        Teach By Type says:

        A rule is really a parent’s preference, or an agreement when the child agrees to accommodate your preference.

        To me, the word “rule” suggests it’s enforceable. But the truth is we we can’t control another person’s behavior.

        So really, it’s a request being presented for their consideration. And we attempt to influence their behavior with our response to their decision to adopt or break the rule.

        Parents like to think they’re in control of their child’s behavior. As a stepmom, you know the truth right out of the gate.


        • cheryl chamblee
          cheryl chamblee says:

          Sue, I love this comment.

          I’ve often thought about how you can’t *make* children go to sleep or eat something. And once they get big enough, you can’t really even *make* them get in the car seat without some serious physical intervention.

          You took it one step further with this: “A rule is really a parent’s preference, or an agreement when the child agrees to accommodate your preference.” And that’s helpful framing for me. Thank you.

    • Pirate Jo
      Pirate Jo says:

      If you don’t send your kids to school, do they really need a bedtime?

      I always cleaned my own room and made my bed because I liked the way it looked. My mom could never get my brother to clean his room. She’d end up standing in the doorway, shouting at him, while he sobbed in misery. My dad never participated in this debacle, because my parents believed it was the mom’s job to raise the kids and it was the dad’s job to earn money. At any rate, my brother only cleaned his room twice a year because nobody wanted to listen to that drama any more often than that.

      But I can totally understand being told to at least move your crap to your own room before dumping it on the floor, because who wants to trip over it? Kind of like condo living, really.

      • Tina
        Tina says:

        Pirate Jo,

        I can think of 2 reasons that kids need bedtime.

        1. Parents need a break. Many days of homeschooling feel like a marathon and you are just so relieved when it’s over.

        2. My 6yo wants the structure. We negotiated an 8 pm bedtime. Sure for a special occasion he likes to stay up late, but he is an early riser. No alarms, but gets up between 5:30-6:00 everyday. He half-heartedly tries to stay up an extra few minutes many nights, but if he does this too much then he gets frustrated because he doesn’t want to get up early. So, maybe this isn’t a rule? I’m just supporting him be who he is?

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:


          I was going to ask how old your kids were. Once they get a little older and you are still homeschooling, bedtime becomes something that they control. Wouldn’t you think? You can’t force someone to sleep when they aren’t tired. But younger kids definitely need more guidance in understanding sleep patterns and discovering their natural rhythms.

          I am a big time INTJ but I’m also a creative type. I play music and write my own songs. I also love writing short stories and have a thousand of them in my mind. I think creativity can be cultivated in those where it doesn’t come naturally.

          This post makes me wonder if I don’t have any rules, or if I just think I don’t have rules because I view them as something else. Like, we all pitch in to keep the house as clean as we can because I don’t want to be a doormat and clean up after everyone. We don’t assign any chores, but if the kids want some new ways to earn some cash from us we put together some tasks or chores they can do to earn that cash. We don’t have bedtimes, but my kids know when they start to get sleepy it’s time for them to go to bed. Sometimes that’s 8 and other times it’s 10. My kids are also early risers. I just want to sleep a few extra minutes!!

          I hear you on needing my own time alone and quiet space for myself. I make sure I get plenty of it during the day even though we are together all the time. I’ve adopted the term “together alone time” from one of my friends that succinctly describes how homeschooling or unschooling looks like for my family. We are all doing are own things, in our own spaces, but we are still all together.

          • Tina
            Tina says:

            Thanks for your thoughts.

            I do think a huge part of the structure that we’ve created is around the fact the my kids are still small (6 & almost 2) and I think they need it. I hadn’t thought about that.

            I don’t feel particularly creative right now, but maybe that will evolve as the kids get older. Something to hope for, right?

  3. Caitlin Timothy
    Caitlin Timothy says:

    The idea of having (very) limited rules is so compelling to me. I get it intuitively: nobody wants to feel controlled; everybody wants to feel respected– and rules quickly come close to controlling people and stepping on all their toes. It seems like successful managers and parents have ways of influencing employees and children such that they don’t know that they’re being directed because the direction feels relatively easy and natural. Routines (brushing teeth, taking boots off) accomplish this. Atmospheres do, too. You’ve pointed out how successful parents raise successful kids because the environment they create- like going to museums and having high-brow discussions- groom for success. Maybe “rules” are for getting people to do what they would never do without the rule. So, if there are lots of rules, either the culture is not very evolved and therefore nobody would every get on board of their own volition, or the person in charge is misguided in how they understand “Rules” in the larger context of what’s required to be successful. My INTJ husband had tons of clashes with his ISFJ mom growing up over “really important rules”. He didn’t do them, and he’s done just fine in life.

    Also, to satiate my curiosity, can you post more on the systems you do in order to not have “rules” or “discipline”?

  4. RaisingCreativeKids
    RaisingCreativeKids says:

    Too few or too many rules is also determined by children’s needs and their perceptions. If P’s son thinks there aren’t too many then she has the right balance.
    But there’s something else at play here, not just the obvious rules. Is the parent conducive to creativity or not? For example, would a child say about his mom “I would never tell her that”, “She would never consider this for me”, “She would freak if she saw me do this”.
    You can have no rules, but keep making judgments about their creative output and not notice how it impacts them. And this too is very personal and different for each child. When my daughter shows me her painting and I say “what’s that?” she enthusiastically explains, when I say that to my son, he changes in his face and disappointed says “you can’t tell?”. I walk along this thin line every day, trying to find the best way.
    How do we score at being conducive/restrictive to our children truly having a creative freedom?

  5. Scotti
    Scotti says:

    I totally agree with downplaying self-discipline. I lived my whole life based upon self-discipline and grit. The result was I was really successful at a lot of sh** I didn’t care one iota about. It was totally confusing to me. I had followed all the rules and done everything right. Why was I so depressed? It wasn’t until I got the difference between inspiration and motivation that things began to turn around.

  6. Erin
    Erin says:

    I was curious what an example of one rule would be, so I google “1 family rule for kids” and got a long list of articles about China’s family cap. o_O

    Then I googled “have 1 household rule” and got articles talking about how having tons of rules is awesome. Because, if you don’t have rules “behaviors such as violence, stealing, and lying thrive in environments without structure.” (

    Give me a break.

    Maybe the only parents reading these articles are the ones who feel out of control and lack confidence about the ambiguity they are facing. But our dependence on validation as parents is part of the problem in this equation. In order to raise strong kids, we ourselves have to take risks.

    What’s the point of rules, anyways? Is it to make their lives better, or our lives easier?

    I really like the book “Loving Our Kids On Purpose” by Danny Silk because he talks about parenting in a way that is founded on mutual respect, choice and communication between parent and child.

    So maybe the one rule should just be the golden rule “treat me the way you want to be treated.” If that’s the core of the relationship, it can be modeled out in a myriad of different ways. You don’t need nit picky rules; you just need the principle of mutual respect.

  7. Terese Hilliard
    Terese Hilliard says:

    This has me thinking about my granddaughter this morning. She refused to wear green today (St. Patrick’s Day). She said,
    “Grandma, I will not wear green today because I make my own rules for me and I wear what I like to wear. Nobody will pinch me today because I will not allow people to pinch me or hurt me just because they want me to be like them.”
    I laughed and had to agree with her. She dressed herself in blue shorts and a pink shirt and felt very proud of herself – SHE IS FIVE YEARS OLD!

  8. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    There’s a good article ( ) written about the importance of self-discipline by retired Gen. John Michel. He writes about his baseball hero Pete Rose and his fall from grace after it was discovered he was betting on games in which he played. As he says – “Admittedly, self-control, otherwise known as temperance, is not popular in today’s culture. I would offer it has become counter-cultural. In fact, much of our society appears to prefer pursuing self-gratification over exercising self-discipline. It’s never been easier to become so self-absorbed that we lose sight of what really matters.” Then he points to a fascinating article ( ) where a study was done by two management gurus. Their conclusion was – “[Successful leaders] are not more creative. They’re not more visionary. They’re not more charismatic. They’re not more ambitious. They’re not more heroic. And they’re not more prone to making big, bold moves.” … “It came down to one primary characteristic. Temperance. Namely, “They all led their teams with a surprising method of self-control in an out-of-control world.” In other words, the most effective leaders made self-discipline a priority, not an afterthought.” The article recounts the trek to the South Pole where one team won the race with the implementation of the “20-mile march” and the other team all lost their lives. Also examples are given of the steady 20-mile march of successful companies such as Stryker’s goal of 20% net income growth/year every year.
    Less rules can be accomplished by simplifying a child’s life and giving them more recess/down time. It’s especially important in this hectic world. This article ( ) speaks to mental health benefits. It also points to this study – “Payne conducted a study in which he simplified the lives of children with attention deficit disorder. Within four short months 68 per cent went from being clinically dysfunctional to clinically functional. The children also displayed a 37 per cent increase in academic and cognitive aptitude, an effect not seen with commonly prescribed drugs like Ritalin.” Payne also makes an observation where he likens the PTSD of kids in refugee camps to kids of affluent parents. Physically the kids are safe but mentally they’re being inundated with information and expectations of parents and other adults.

  9. Courtney Holt
    Courtney Holt says:

    I read an article about raising creative kids and the point was that less rules equals more creativity. And that made me feel good because I am always feeling guilty for having zero rules, because it’s not on purpose. Its just who I am, which is a disorganized ENFP. So that made me start thinking about creativity and how it is probably a natural thing to occur in P kids who have P parents. And this whole article was set up as saying that creativity is the most important thing a child can have. But creativity is not always super useful when you don’t have the traits you need to apply it to an actual outcome. So should creativity really be the ultimate goal?

  10. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    This article makes me feel good about the way I’ve raised my kids. Now that they are 19 and 21, sometimes I wonder if I should have had more rules, more structure, more this, more that….. (My kids are kind, empathetic, hard working, etc…It’s not that I’m unhappy with how they turned out. Not at all. It’s just self-doubt at times…Probably Facebook induced… So many kids seem to be on this “path” that we never jumped on, like a train we missed…And, I start wondering about my choices and thinking about this topic.)

    The truth is, I hate rules. I’ve always hated rules. We never had a bedtime, a shower time, a clean up time….We just did what needed to be done at the time it needed to happen. I go with the flow….”Tired? Let’s go to bed….” I remember once my 9 year old wanted to make “fresh” pasta at 9:30 at night. He whipped out a recipe from his pocket. “Seriously?” I actually pulled out the flour, the pasta cranker and did it. He also once used my electric fondu pot to melt every candle in the house to see what would happen when he dropped hot wax into different temperatures of water. I let him. What the heck…..

    My ex husband, on the other hand, made up all sorts of arbitrary rules, seemingly just to have an excuse to say “no”. And he said no all the time, it was his automatic response to any sort of request. As you can imagine, it caused huge friction for us, our opposite styles. In hindsight, I would recommend discussing this sort of thing before making babies….We were a mismatch. He thought my style was irresponsible and a “free for all”. He thought my lack of rules was evidence of my incompetence.

    Here’s the thing. I raised those boys singlehandedly because he didn’t want to. I supported them with a business I started after ex’s actions caused us to lose our home and me to go bankrupt. He was convinced his rigid style was the only way.

    It’s so odd now though. Because, he’s been (pretending to be? not sure…) unemployed for the last 10 years. He lives off his wife. It looks like they are down to one car, he has no profession that we can tell. I have a thriving business that has been named, “Best of..” for the second year in a row. My oldest has a few more semesters and he’ll graduate with an engineering degree. It’s mind blowing, what he has to learn; visualizing waves, how they behave, the patterns they make, the mathematical equations required, etc….I’m in awe. My youngest is starting classes in the fall and has an amazing gift for design; color, balance, pattern….It’s beautiful to see what he creates. Both have jobs and bought their own cars, etc….While, now, their very rigid, rules for everything father is sharing a car with his wife, not really doing all that much with his life…..Interesting.

    So, I guess, when I see all that, my flexible, hardly any rules style has worked out okay for us. The thing is, I don’t know if I really could have been any other way consistently. It’s not my nature to have a lot of rules and I doubt I would have enforced them even if I tried to set them. So, when I look back with a little doubt about my choices in raising them, I see that it was actually a really good way to do it for us.

    Thank you for this article.

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