Family Rules Everyone Can Follow
Family rules tend to emerge naturally, based on our own core values. If something is important to us, we naturally want to teach our children. Family rules must be pretty universal, considering you can buy wall canvases in most big box stores. For instance, the Golden Rule is a pretty good rule of thumb for most, but all families are unique and may have their own specific rules.
Rose Miller, mother of four from Center Point, IA, says, “We don’t have ours written out except what’s written in the Word. ‘Encourage one another and build each other up,’ ‘through love serve one another,’ etc. Come to think of it, it might be worth writing them down!”
Rules and guidelines help families know what is expected of them and how to interact with the rest of the family. They also help the house run effectively. Most of us do have family rules even if they are not written down and prettily displayed on the wall for all to see. If you would like to put some thought into what your family rules should be, consider having a family meeting. Discuss and agree upon what is important to your family and then perhaps assign specific consequences when rules are broken. Working on this little project as a family can bring you closer, as well as ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to expectations. Family rules should pertain to the whole family, not just the children. After all, we all know that more is caught than taught, and kids love to catch Mom and Dad breaking the rules. Seeing that everyone makes mistakes and faces consequences are helpful learning tools for children as well. Rules can apply to general behavior and character building, as well as be more specific to help your house run smoothly.
We have not had a family meeting yet, but we do have some rules we have adopted and adapted to over the years. We refer to the Golden Rule almost daily and have even incorporated a reward system we call Kindness Points. We have a chalkboard in our kitchen where we record a tally mark for each time we “catch” the kids being kind. When they receive 10 points, they get to go out with a parent for a one-on-one date.
Another rule we have in our house is that my kids are not allowed to have breakfast or do anything else until they are ready for the day. This means they need to dress, brush their teeth and tend to their hair before anything else happens. This prevents their forgetting things and arguing about going back upstairs to finish getting ready for school. This rule began when my kids and I started having activities to get to on time, such as MOPS, and is especially helpful now that two of them are in school.
Another rule we have in our house is that children must practice piano and get their daily homework done before school. This rule changed when we moved out of state and switched schools. At their previous school, they were on the bus by 7:00 in the morning, which meant that all homework and piano practice was to be done after school after their snack and before they could go play. Now, their new school begins at 9:05, so we have extra time in the morning and less time in the afternoons, and we try to utilize that extra morning time. This is a good place to point out that “rules” can be flexible when family life changes.
As for meal rules, we have told our kids they must eat all their meal in order to have one small treat afterward and that they never have to finish dessert. If they take a cold lunch to school, they must finish it before enjoying a snack after school. If they consistently “forget” or choose not to finish their lunch but somehow are always able to enjoy their lunchbox treat first, then they lose lunchbox treats for the rest of the week as well. As for family meals, we try to eat together whenever we can, and that’s when our kids learn how to take turns talking about their day and listening to everyone’s highs and lows. We also have a rule that all must sit on their bottoms at the table and use their manners.
Safety rules include holding hands when crossing a street and looking both ways, wearing a helmet when riding a bike or scooter, no lying and no secrets. Begin these rules early so these habits are all your children know, and stick to your rules. If a child forgets to look both ways, take the extra minute to have him walk back and try again. If she refuses to wear her helmet when riding her bike, maybe her bike needs to be put in time-out for the day. These early interventions are key to making your children understand your rules are meant to be followed.
Blue Springs mother of four Jennifer Willis explains her family’s no secrets rule: “I did overhear Charlie and one of his friends talking one time, and his friend wanted to tell him a secret that he couldn’t tell anyone. Charlie told him that he doesn’t keep secrets from his mom. I just want my kids to feel comfortable telling everything, especially if someone hurts them and possibly tells them not to tell.” Willis credits learning about this rule to a Grace at Home session offered at Grace Church in Overland Park.
Helpful rules include picking up before you get something else out, helping pick up the house at the end of the day and always using manners. We both encourage and praise our kids’ saying please, thank you and holding the door open for others. My sons especially like holding doors open for strangers. We like to incorporate books as resources to reiterate these important lessons. When we are helpful and kind to others outside and inside our home, we talk about “filling up their buckets,” from the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud. A catch-phrase like this is an easy reminder, like a secret code between you and your kids.
Another important rule in our family is to apologize when we have done something wrong. The popular PBS Kids program Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood does a great job reinforcing important rules like apologizing. Watch with your kids. The episodes even come with catchy jingles you can sing throughout the day, such as “Saying I’m sorry is the first step, then, how can I help?” Another episode handles frustration and anger with songs such as “When you get so mad that you want to roar, take a step back and count to four.” I don’t know about you, but these are still crucial lessons I need to hear—especially when parenting!
Another helpful rule is no interrupting. “When an adult is in a conversation and the child wants to say something, he puts his hand on the adult’s arm,” Miller says. “The adult places a hand over the child’s hand to acknowledge his request to interrupt. When there’s an appropriate break in the conversation, the adult turns to the child to listen to him. You also can teach appropriate times to interrupt, like emergency situations.”
As kids get older, add or reevaluate rules as needed. You can do this as a New Year’s Day tradition or on milestone birthdays. Rules for older children may concern screen time, sleepovers, driving privileges and curfews. Lori Tate, Bloomington, IL, mother of three, has rules regarding screen time for her elementary-aged children. “Screen time is earned. For 30 minutes of screen time, they must read for 30 minutes,” she says. “Screens are always in family spaces.”
As for sleepovers, they are quite the hot button topic. My oldest is in third grade, and at this point, our rule is no sleepovers except with family members and in each other’s rooms—which they think is great fun! Laura Loeffert, Overland Park mother of three, says, “We don’t do sleepovers. I am a firm believer that they can go have fun and still come home at say 10:00. Time will be negotiable. Also, I don’t want to be responsible for other people’s kids overnight and don’t expect them to take care of mine overnight.” Fellow Overland Park mother of three Meredith Barreth says, “We don’t do sleepovers because I’m concerned about unfiltered internet and my kids’ being exposed to pornography early in life. They stay over at Grandma’s and occasionally we have houseguests.”
Kids naturally test their boundaries, and parents need to remember back to when they were kids and how they’d try to get away with things. But rules and consequences are a normal part of life that kids should learn now, when the stakes are low. When they are older, they will face bigger consequences for bigger offenses. “An unhappy child is a healthy child,” explains Kevin Leman, psychologist, on an episode on FocusOnTheFamily.com. “There’s times your son or daughter has to be miserable, quite frankly, because they disobeyed you. They talked back to you.”
Rules help family members learn how to interact properly with others, think about others, learn obedience and that there are consequences when rules aren’t followed. Contrary to what kids may say, rules and guidelines do help children feel secure and stable in their home, as well as understand what the expectations are within their family.
Stephanie Loux is the mother of Layla, 8, Mason, 6, and Slade, 3. You can check out more at LettersFromTheLouxes.com.