12/09/2014 03:46 pm ET Updated Feb 08, 2015

Are You Making Discipline Harder on Yourself?

Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images

This poor mom. She was juggling two kids on a plane, solo, and she was -- as any of us would be -- short on patience.

I couldn't help noticing, though, that she was making things harder on herself than necessary.

When we were still half an hour from landing, her little boy started taking off his shoes. "No, don't take off your shoes!" she said. "We're about to get off the plane!"

After we landed and everyone stood up, her little boy stepped into the aisle. She barked at him to "stay right here," standing in front of his seat.

Mom situated her little girl in the aisle with her suitcase, and the girl started talking to the people in the next row. Mom interrupted, with an apologetic laugh: "People don't want you in their face!"

She created rule after rule for her kids to follow. But did it really matter if the boy wore shoes until it was time to leave? Standing in the crowded aisle after landing, he couldn't have moved more than a foot in any direction, let alone gotten out of her sight. People had brought down their suitcases, so he wasn't in danger of being whacked in the head. And the people in that next row seemed perfectly happy to chat with her little girl.

The rules weren't all that necessary or important. Which is why, when her kids didn't obey, she didn't enforce the rules. She just got more and more agitated.

The mom on the plane was almost setting herself and her kids up for a rough time, creating so many situations she had to monitor and so many chances for the kids to fail. What's easier than trying to enforce twenty rules at once? Enforcing a few rules that are very important to you.

This is one of the things I talk about in "Follow four rules about rules" in Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science (And What I've Learned So Far). It's worth taking some time to think about your values as a family, and then setting just a handful of rules that follow from those values.

Make discipline easier on yourself. When you let the unimportant stuff slide, you might not have a perfectly smooth ride. But you'll make it much less bumpy for yourself and your kids.