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Pare Down Your Family Rules

Image: Wicker Paradise via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.


Continually creating and enforcing all our rules was exhausting. That’s when we came up with our family mission statement, along with a short list of Rules to Have More Fun.


by Heidi Indahl

Over the years our household rules have ebbed and flowed with the needs of individual homes and the people living in them.  In many ways, they have changed more as we grew as parents than anything else.  As classroom teachers, we initially tried to apply Montessori’s three rules of Respect for Self, Respect for Others, & Respect for the Environment.   It turns out, while these great rules cover just about any offense, they don’t really work when your oldest child is only two or three.

We struggled through for awhile, continually building “rules” based on the circumstances that came up. Then our second son was diagnosed with autism and we discovered that every rule that we created was filled with at least fifteen loopholes. “You said I can’t draw on the walls, you didn’t say anything about couches” was just as problematic as “You can only write on paper” because then it becomes impossible to draw on the sidewalk with chalk!

Continually creating and enforcing all our rules was entirely exhausting.

Around the time we created our family mission statement, I think we finally got smart(er) about rules. We took the basic Montessori concepts we were initially so attracted to and incorporated them right into the mission statement. Then as we discussed the mission statement in our family meetings, we were able to talk about what it actually looks like to show respect for others and ourselves. Thank goodness two and three year olds become six and seven year olds! Instead of having specific rules, we used our mission statement as a way to help us all make better choices.

At the same time, we created a list of what we called “Rules to Have More Fun.” Each of these things covered most of the major offenses against each other and our home. The rules are in our family meeting binder next to a list of inside things to do. (While they rarely struggle to find things to do outside, I have noticed that sometimes inside they seem stuck. We made a list together during one of our family meetings and printed it up to keep in the binder.)

Our rules are:

  • No hurtful words.
  • No violence, period.
  • “NO!” means stop right away.
  • Follow directions the first time.
  • If you use it, help put it away.
  • Look for ways to help someone.

Paring down rules: Generalize and simplify

If you have older children it may be entirely possible to take very general rules such as Montessori’s three rules and apply them at home through family meetings and discussion. Consider making an ongoing poster of what it looks like to do those three things and when something you don’t like happens, ask the child to reflect on why a certain action failed to show respect for self, others, or the environment.

If you have younger children, look for ways to simplify rules. A list of 3-5 clear rules is going to be more usable for you and for your child.

Remember: if you can’t remember them all, they can’t remember them all.

Whenever possible, word each rule in the positive, using do’s instead of do not’s. Our rules to have more fun is a mix of positive and negative, but the fewer negatives the better.

If you are looking for inspiration in developing rules for your family, I have created a Family Rules Pinterest Board!

How does your family handle rules?

Follow Jerry Windley-Daoust:

Publisher, Gracewatch Media

Jerry Windley-Daoust is a writer, editor, and father of five. He writes essays and stories at Windhovering and is the show-runner for Gracewatch Media, a small Catholic publisher. You can follow his latest publishing projects at gracewatch.org.

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