Defining the Family Rules

How are your family's values put into action? Through personal limits and through family rules. Family rules define what is and isn't allowed in your family. They apply to everybody. (Waiting for something that says only Joey can't cross the street by himself? That's a personal limit.)

Defining your family rules can be helpful, especially if you're having disciplinary problems. It's not required. Some families don't believe in having specific family rules. Done right, the family value statement (no matter how short) should cover the territory. If a behavior doesn't fit into your family's value statement, it is against the rules, and that's that. Other families rely on clearly defined family rules. It's a matter of your family's approach to life.

Behave Yourself!

Too many family rules and your family will start focusing more on what it can't do rather than what it can, and that's not very positive now, is it?

Use Family Rules Sparingly

Louanne Johnson, author of School Is Not a Four-Letter Word, tells the story of her first few years of teaching: yards of rules that she, and her students, were constantly fighting over and forgetting. Finally she tore up the rule sheet and wrote a new one, with only two rules:

  1. Respect yourself and the other people in the room.
  2. No insults against anybody's race, religion, skin color, ethnic background, gender, or sexual preference.

Johnson makes a point of noting that rule number two is included in rule number one, but she wanted to stress it. Behavior in her classroom was measured against these two rules. Spitting is disrespectful, therefore it was against the rules. With this simplified approach to behavior, Johnson's whole classroom dynamic changed.

If you look closely, Johnson's rule number one is a value statement and rule number two, which is more explicit and precise, is a rule.

Family Rules Are Your Family Values in Action

Family rules are more specific than the values expressed in your family value statement. They are how the general values are expressed in the real world. To define family rules for your family, sit down with your partner (yes, just the two of you for this discussion; it's not a kid thing) and go over the list of suggested topics below. You'll see that the potential for rules is endless. Some of the topics you may want to write a rule for, some not, and there may be a variety of topics I haven't included here. Remember:

  • Keep your rule list sparse; the fewer there are, the more power each rule will have.
  • Developing your list will probably take you more than one sitting.
  • Write down your rules and review them the next day.
  • The very process of discussing these issues with your parenting partner may lead to some very interesting conversations—and potential conflicts to be resolved. It's worthwhile to air these differences before they become household issues, even if you decide not to have any “official” family rules.
  • Remember that family rules apply to everybody. If the rules are only for the kids, or if they're supposed to be for everybody but you break them, you're saying, “I'm the one in power (ha-ha, you're not),” “I'm an adult so I matter, you're a kid so you don't,” and “Just wait until you grow up. Then you can break all the rules you want.” Say you make a family rule that everybody's room has to be kept presentable. If your bedroom remains swallowed by piles of clothes, old papers, and dirty dishes, you're just about assured that your child's will look the same.

Even if you love rules, don't even begin to think you can make family rules to cover every contingency. As a matter of fact, the fewer rules the better!

Try this Family Rules Definition Exercise

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Well-Behaved Child © 1999 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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