In my last article I introduced the four steps of creating a cooperative family environment. Family cooperation requires our children follow the family rules. We know that when this happens we can do fun things together as a family. How do we put family rules in place so that this can happen? We need to think big picture!
“Raising children is the business of adult making”
It’s frustrating when our children don’t listen and obey the rules. We tell them to do something and they should do it because we said it, right? It doesn’t always go that easy.
We need to think differently about family rules. Rules aren’t things that we make up on the spot. Rules help us guide our child to be the person we want them to become.
Seem a bit too far fetched? Let’s start at the beginning with some foundations. When we are creating family rules we need to consider the difference between rules and standards.
Rules Vs Standards
Rules are expectations that are inflexible, enforced consistently, basic, and for everyone in the family. They are the expectations we have for our children
Standards are flexible, they are ideals and goals that we are working towards and understand that people are not perfect.
Having rules and standards help create a cooperative family and children who are more likely to do what we ask. The rules are the basic foundation of our parenting and our family. They are for everyone and are what are expected to be upheld. Standards are things that we all work towards and understand that we all have bad days.
How do we come up with family rules?
Family rules are individual and are based upon our own beliefs and values. They are influenced by our own childhood, how we were raised and how we feel about our childhood. Sometimes we want to have the same rules our parents placed upon us, other times we want to go the opposite direction.
Whatever family rules we come up with we should always follow the KISS principle – Keep It Simple Silly.
There is no point having a list of 20 family rules, many that get forgotten or a repetitions. Children respond to shorter lists of rules that we can regularly and consistently enforce.
“Start with a list of 5 -7 family rules and build from there”
Because family rules are personal and individual, I can’t write this article and tell you which rules you should put in place. It’s time for an activity! Get out a piece of paper; your journal is a perfect place (and if you haven’t got one, now is the time! *hint hint*) and consider the following two questions:
- What type of person do you want you child to be?
Think about what characteristics you want them to have. How do you want them to be with their friends, their teachers or in future intimate relationships? What is important for you to teach your child? What type of member of society do you want them to be?
For example; be an active listener, respectful, and accepting of all people.
- What type of family member do you want them to be?
Consider who you want your child to be in your family. How do you want your child to be in relationship with you as their parent, with grandparents or other extended family members, and of course siblings if they have them.
For example; be respectful of all family members and listen, work together to resolve differences, and help together as a family within the home.
Once you’ve got your answers to these questions (and dot points are fine!), it’s time to work backwards!
Wanting your child to be an active listener could lead to a rule such as:
“Listen when someone speaks and speak and share your thoughts, feelings and opinions” – active listening goes both ways!
Wanting your child to work together in the family for example to tidy up around the house could lead to rule such as:
“We all work together to help each other around the house” – this of course goes both ways!
If you want to encourage your children to get along together and work out differences between them then you may have a rule such as:
“Negotiate to find solutions that make everyone happy and feel good”
These rule examples may seem different to ones that you may have initially thought of such as “Always listen to mum or dad”, “Pick up your toys” or “Don’t fight with your brother / sister”.The key to making family rules that work is that they are applicable to multiple situations.
Active listening skills aren’t just for parents but for everyone including friends, teachers, extended family members and in future relationships (yep, even when they are romantic relationships). Having a rule that is short sighted and only about listening to mum and dad places limitations. Using an open ended rule that can be applied to multiple situations makes it a lot easier to apply in different situations, both when our kids are young and as they grow up.
Remember to keep the list short and sweet. Not only is it easy for your children to remember, it’s easier for you! KISS principle always!
What’s the next step?
If you are in a two parent household make sure you’ve discussed the family rules together. The next step is to talk to your kids.
It is easier for our kids to talk about the rules, talk about them and what they mean when it isn’t an emotional, high tension environment e.g. when they’ve just broken a rule. It’s time for a family meeting! What is this? In a nutshell, you come together to talk together about something that is important so that you can all work together.
In the next article I will talk about how to set up a family meeting that you can use not only for discussing family rules but solving problems between siblings, kids and parents, family routine or planning fun family activity. Keep your eyes peeled for that!
For now, focus on getting clear on the family rules. You can’t enforce them unless you are clear on them. It’s an important step. If you haven’t read the article on family cooperation pop back through this link and check it out. A cooperative family works together on the family rules so don’t underestimate the importance of focusing on creating cooperation.
What about the parents?
I’ve had lots of parents say to me that they want their children to obey the rules because they simply said so. Yes, it is important for kids to listen and respect their parents but it goes two ways. Parents also have to listen and respect their kids. One way we can do this with family rules is make sure they apply to everyone! This means, no more of this “do as I say, not as I do”. As you define the family rules you come up with, make sure you’re willing to hold yourself to the same ones.
What about standards?
At the beginning of this article I brought up standards. Standards are flexible compared to rules that are set in stone. But they still apply to everyone.
A standard might be that a the family sits down each night together to have dinner. Having it as a standard means that it allows for flexibility on those days where it’s pizza night in front of the TV or when you’re home late or a parent needs to go out. If you had a family rule that it’s family dinner every single night, it doesn’t allow for these nights. It can cause tension and confusion with children about how a rule is strict on one day, but not another.
If when you go through the above family rule planning questions, if you’re not sure if a rule should be a rule, make it a standard!
Remember that you can always go back and revise the rules and in the article on family meetings I’ll chat about how to do it. If something isn’t working, then there is not much point repeating it over and over.
Have you been through a process like this? Do you have clear family rules? I’m always interested in how things are for other families. I’d love you to share them in the comments below. Or if you’d like to ask a question please do!
See you in the next article!