How to Help Kids Follow Family Rules

When it comes to family rules, a common mistake parents make is not clearly defining the rules!

What is acceptable and what is not in a family can be a moving target depending on the whims of a parent’s mood, fatigue, or even their indigestion. One day shoes scattered in the entryway are ignored or simply kicked aside, and the next day it is a cardinal offense when a stressed parent trips over them. “You know better than to leave these here!” This inconsistency is a classic way that parents exasperate their children (See Ephesians 6:4).

A second key mistake many parents make is to dictate lots of rules. Arbitrary rules without thoughtful discussion and reasoning usually don’t build lasting values. Certainly there are rules that parents need to set to protect and guide their children, but most rules can be developed together, giving kids a voice in the decisions.

A key way that our family built values and cooperation was to determine rules, activities, and schedules at weekly family meetings. Our family learned to discuss Biblical values, explore what was important to us, solve problems together, and discover ways in which we wanted to be an even better family! Since everyone had a voice, it was understood that we all would live by the decisions. Kids were never required to attend family meetings, but if they chose not to attend, the decisions made at that meeting were still enforced. This policy was a strong encouragement for all to participate.

As we explored our values we would sometimes do “Family Challenges” for a week at a time — for example, one week we unanimously voted that we would have no sugary treats or snacks for a week. My 10-year-old, Shelbi kept suggesting that we not watch TV for a week, but since my 7-year-old, Bailee, kept voting “Nay”, that resolution kept getting blocked. One day, for the first time in our family meeting history, Bailee decided to exercise her independence by not coming to the scheduled family meeting. Seizing the opportunity before her, Shelbi suggested we put the TV in the closet for one week. We voted. It passed. Unanimously! Bailee found out about it that evening when I unplugged the TV and put it in the closet. She’s been an eager contributor to family meetings ever since!

Kids that give input into family rules and decisions feel important, heard, and competent. Not only that, but working together as a family prepares them well for a life of working in harmony with others.

Apply It Now:

  1. Consider a frequent conflict or frustration point in your family. Is a lack of clarity or rules part of the problem? Or – have you set arbitrary rules of which your kids have no ownership?
  2. How might you solve the problem together? (i.e. how could you set the stage for a fun and encouraging discussion about how you would all like a particular challenge area to be better.)

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Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

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