Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Health & Parenting

Font Size

Rules Kids Need to Break

Kids Need to Break Rules That Squelch Self-Identity, Researchers Say
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 25, 2010 -- The rules kids are most likely to break may be the rules they most need to break, a new study suggests.

Growing up means more than learning the rules you must follow. It means learning which rules you can legitimately break, suggest University of California, Davis researcher Kristin Hansen Lagattuta, PhD, and colleagues.

Rules that must be followed are moral rules such as "Don't steal your brother's paints." Rules that children may be justified in disobeying are rules that restrict the freedom to be oneself, such as "You can't be friends with Suzy."

"Children learn to identify situations where there may be legitimate grounds for disobeying," Lagattuta and colleagues say.

When does this happen? It appears to be when kids' motivation for rule breaking changes from "me, me, me" to "I gotta be me." This change from selfishness to selfhood already is under way by age 4 but deepens by the time a child is 7, the researchers find.

What Kids Need to Learn about Obeying, Breaking Rules

To explore how children deal with the conflict between what they want and what parents say they may not do, Lagattuta and colleagues studied 60 boys and girls, evenly divided between ages 4, 5, and 7.

In half-hour sessions, they used illustrated story boards to present child characters in a rule-breaking situation, and asked the children what the character would do (not what the character should do) and how the character would feel about it.

In some of the situations, the character was strongly self-identified with a prohibited action. For example, a character called "Gloria the Painter" wants to paint pictures, but her mother says, "Gloria, you should not paint pictures!" and leaves the room. In another situation, Gloria can paint only if she takes her brother's paint set away from him -- and is explicitly told not to steal her brother's paints. Or the character in these situations may be named Gloria, but is described as a girl who likes to paint, but likes to do other things, too.

The youngest children in the study were most likely to break rules in all situations -- a finding the researchers found a bit puzzling, as even 3-year-olds have been shown to view moral rules as more binding than those restricting their personal identities.

Today on WebMD

Girl holding up card with BMI written
Is your child at a healthy weight?
toddler climbing
What happens in your child’s second year.
father and son with laundry basket
Get your kids to help around the house.
boy frowning at brocolli
Tips for dealing with mealtime mayhem
mother and daughter talking
child brushing his teeth
Sipping hot tea
Young woman holding lip at dentists office
Which Vaccines Do Adults Need
rl with friends
tissue box
Child with adhd