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Rules are THE WORST, right?

If you ask your child if they love “rules,” they will probably give you a look as if you’ve just offered them a bowl full of squirmy bugs.

Who likes rules?

(Okay, some children actually do say they like rules, and they thrive in structured environments with strong leaders. Thank goodness for those children and bless their hearts… but this blog post is for those of us who are raising bolder, more independent-minded kiddos.)

Without rules, of course, we would be living in anarchy. Nobody really wants to live in a society or a family ruled by the “law of the jungle” but if we’re being honest, we all wish we could make the rules, right?

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To a child, a rule might mean being powerless

Teachers and parents make the rules, and children are expected to obey. That’s doesn’t seem fair does it? I’ve certainly heard my own son yell “I WISH THERE WERE NO SUCH THING AS ADULTS!”

Maybe your child has already set up his/her own rules which include a pretty firm double standard:

  • Mom ALWAYS has to come when I call, but I’ll come when I’m good and ready.
  • Dad had better answer me every time I interrupt, but no one is allowed to interrupt me.
  • Don’t touch my backpack, but it’s okay if I explore your purse.

Eventually, your child will learn empathy and perspective-taking. Your child will learn to be considerate of other people’s feelings and property. Your child will learn to be gracious and allow others to go first… but until then…

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This child hates RULES! What do I do?

If your child is “immune” to rules, it can be hard to convince them to play by the same rules as everyone else.To your child, rules are limits. Basically, they’re a buzzkill. Grown-ups are busy thinking about safety, order, cleanliness, good manners… they just want to have fun, OKAY?

It takes time for children to develop the perspective and maturity to understand the big picture. Children don’t start out with an appreciate of empathy or cooperation. How do get our determined, in-the-moment little people to buy in to the idea of rules?

Well, first let’s start by throwing the word “rules” out the window. Too much baggage. From now on, let’s try talking about the Family Formula, The *Family Name* Code, or the Laws of the Kingdom.

Why a formula, a code or a set of laws? For a start, they don’t just limit and oppress.

A law protects.

A formula creates.

A code reveals.

Best of all, these all apply to everyone equally.

Re-writing the rules

When children understand that we are all in this together and that we all have to follow the same expectations, the conversation changes. Suddenly, they see that the rules can guarantee their rights, and protect their interests.

EVERYBODY has to stick to them. Even the grown-ups.

In this, kids are invited to have a voice and a seat at the table. Now, those pesky rules are going to work *for* them and not just against them.

If your children start to give you very specific ideas, like “Don’t point the nerf gun at anyone” or “Always do your homework,” go ahead and write these ideas down, and then look for ways to group them together so that they can apply to EVERYONE in the family. For example, instead of specific rules about scary toys, you could suggest “Everyone gets a chance to feel safe.” Instead of “Always do your homework,” you could suggest “We keep our promises and ask for help when we need it.”

I wrote this blog post about taking little rules and collecting them into big ideas (ages ago!), so you can read it if you need inspiration:

House Rules: 4 simple instructions that cover everything

When you’re ready, here’s how to start writing your own set of family rules:

Include your values

What do you most want to keep? What is your family proud of? What does your family do best? You can be as specific as you want (for example, if Friday night is movie night in your family, then add it to the list!)

Examples:

“We are honest with each other.”

“We spend special-time together once a week.”

“We listen to each other.”

“We take time to PLAY together.”

“We help others.”

Include your boundaries

What are you NOT okay with? What needs to be protected?

What If it’s something you want to stop, set up the positive expectations so you can replace. Ask your kids to give examples that are important to them, and choose expectations that are reasonable.

Examples:

“We keep each other safe” (no yelling, kicking, throwing things.)

“We solve problems together” (no name-calling or reprisals.)

“We respect each other’s privacy” (no stealing, or going into off-limit zones.)

Keep it simple.

Start with only three or four rules. Use language that kids can understand (even better, let the children put the rules in their own words.)

If there are too many little rules to cover, read this for ideas about how to collect them into one larger theme.

The big take-away

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A set of rules doesn’t have to be a cage.

Rules can nurture what it most important to you.

When you build a set of rules with your family, you can create something that is:

  • Collaborative (both parents and children should contribute ideas)
  • Protective (they can protect a family’s favourite routines, and highlight a family’s most important values)
  • Collective (as a family, you can write rules that apply to everyone)

Rules protect us. They help us stick together.

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Even better, when children see us following the rules, we are setting a powerful example. We can be transparent about our struggles, and we can model good problem-solving.

For example, you could share your experiences with your children and invite them to problem-solve with you. “Guess what guys– I had a REALLY HARD TIME today following the rule about cookies. I really really wanted to eat them all, but I remember that we have a rule about sharing. What do you think I did? What could I do next time?”

family rules
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If this idea inspires you, let me know! Your family rules will be unique to you. If you and your family put your heads together, I know you can come up with something special. If you and your kids enjoy drawing, get out the markers and sparkles!

Here’s an example I made based on the Family Mottos I grew up with.

Would you like a version of your own? If you already have a set of rules in mind, fill in the form below, and I’ll create it for you. If you’re not sure, let me know in the form, and we can book a quick call and talk it through (I’ll send you a link to my calendar) before I send your very own ready-to-frame piece of family art.

I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

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