With children, you never know what they’re going to do on any given day. No wonder you need some great family rules!
You want your kids to learn how to behave and to grow up to be good people, but at the same time, you don’t want to stifle them with ten million rules. If you’re wondering what are good family rules, you’re in the right place.
In fact, I’d argue you only need 3 family rules! Surprised? Read on to learn why you need these great family rules for toddlers through teens.
Why you only need 3 family rules
Have you ever been in an environment (either as a child or an adult) that seemed to make up a rule for every scenario, no matter how unlikely?
Case in point: A few years ago, my husband and I came home from a trip with some nice chocolates that I was really looking forward to. Even though we don’t do a lot of sweets for the kids, we also got them a few chocolate covered pretzels and let them have one the night we got back into town. So my kids knew there was chocolate somewhere.
I moved my chocolate stash to the top of the fridge (please tell me I’m not the only one hiding chocolate from my kids) and then put all three kids to bed.
The next morning, we got up and I started getting dressed. I noticed a suspicious quiet (parents, you know exactly what I’m talking about).
So I walked into the kitchen and see all three kids hovering near the fridge. Beside them, there is a chair topped by a stool! My daughters had stacked chairs so they get to the chocolate.
While I’m not sure how much each kid got, but my toddler’s face was smeared with chocolate. But I guess the bright side is that my daughters shared!
Fortunately, everyone was safe and no one fell. Of course we told our little girls that it is so not okay to stack stools on top of chairs to climb up the fridge.
So how do I address my kids playing Jenga with chairs just to take my chocolate? I can’t ignore dangerous behaviors like this.
Besides hiding my chocolate better (obviously), what do I do? Should I create a new rule stating “Don’t stack stools on top of chairs for climbing,” and post it on my wall?
Nope. Just because you don’t make an official rule to guide every facet of life doesn’t mean you’re being permissive.
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Too many rules can just be confusing for little ones and overwhelming for parents. So the goal is to make only a few rules that will cover pretty much any scenario your family runs across.
How to create family rules
How do you decide on which family rules to use? Especially if you’re wanting to be a bit more minimalistic on rules, deciding on them can require a lot of thought (unless, of course, you choose the printable 3 family rules I’ve already chosen for my own family).
You want rules that serve your family, not rules you have to serve. So if a rule makes life harder for you, it’s out. Pick something else and move on.
With this in mind, when I first was trying to decide on rules, I struggled for a while. Even though I didn’t know exactly what I wanted the rules to be, I had strong ideas for how they should serve our family.
1. Rules should support overarching values for the family.
What core values do we want to instill in our family? For us, it was love, respect, trust, and cooperation. Others you may want to focus on include:
And the list goes on. I definitely want all these values for my family too, but I chose to narrow in on the first four. Therefore, our rules emphasize these ideals.
In addition, your family rules should support your routine. For example, we have a weekly family chore chart that we use to decide who cleans what. A focus on respect and cooperation helps us keep up with our cleaning routine.
2. Rules should give your children a lens through which to view their place in the world.
How do I want my kids to see their role? I want them to know they are contributing members of the family, and that they will one day be contributing members to our global society.
I want my kids to know that life isn’t all about them. That doesn’t mean I want to make them feel unimportant, but I want them to know that they should uplift others while maintaining their own boundaries.
Finally, I want my kids to know that all people, regardless of color, gender, or any other characteristic, deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. So our family rules need to support that.
That’s why I don’t have nit-picky family rules like, “Don’t chew with your mouth full.” While dining etiquette is definitely good to teach your kids, it’s not my primary goal. I’m thinking bigger than that.
3. Rules should encourage children to be their best selves.
I wanted my rules to set expectations for my kids. Yes, these expectations can challenge my kids (and myself at times!), but they give them something to aspire to.
And that’s an important point – you want rules to encourage kids to do better, to get up and try again when they make mistakes. I never want to make my kids feel like they’ll never measure up.
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For that reason, setting out punishments isn’t the role of rules for our family. For example, When we hit, then we sit doesn’t seem so much like a rule to me as much as a consequence.
Worse, this “rule” sets the expectation that hitting will happen! I know that we will encounter some
occasional hitting in our home of three children (have you ever met a three-year old?), but I’d rather create a rule that points to our aspirations instead of our failings.
4. Rules should grow with your family.
While Don’t climb up the refrigerator to get to Mommy’s chocolate may seem like a good rule in the moment, there will come a day where this scenario is irrelevant.
After all, one day my kids will be old enough to reach above the fridge without a chair, and maybe one day I won’t have to hide chocolate to enjoy it.
For this reason, I want overarching guidelines that all our more detailed “no-nos” will fit under as we need them, but then we can shed those and come up with new ones (curfews, perhaps?) as the kids get older.
What are the best family rules?
After a lot of consideration, we ended up with only three rules for our family:
1. We treat others with kindness and respect.
This is our first rule for a reason. Whatever we do, we need to treat others with kindness and respect.
This rule applies to any scenario, with any other person. Is my oldest talking rudely to her sister? We treat others kindly and with respect.
Do we have a classmate who is upset? How can we show them kindness and respect?
Are you refusing to obey and get pajamas on? We treat our parents with respect.
Notice that we didn’t include obedience as an official family rule. Maybe obedience is really important to you, so if that’s a rule you want, that’s fine.
Like I said before, I want our rules to grow with our children. When kids are young, yes, respect and obedience are generally two sides of the same coin. But this won’t always be the case. One day, our kids won’t be under us anymore, but we hope that they still respect us.
And the rules apply to my husband and me too! I strive to show respect to my children in hopes that this instills a desire in them to respect me too, even when they’re adults and no longer in our house.
2. We treat ourselves with kindness and respect.
While very small children might not be ready to understand this rule, we teach it to them by how we treat them.
When your newborn is screaming for hours on end, yet you’re still there with him, holding him through the internal storm, you’re teaching him that he’s worthy of kindness and respect.
When your toddler is being an absolute disaster, and rather than scream at her, you say, “I’m so sorry this is hard for you” and let her release all those pent-up big feelings, you’re showing her that she’s worthy of kindness and respect.
Even as young four or five years old, this rule is teachable.
When my five-year old gets frustrated and says “I can’t do it!” about a new skill, I can remind her to be gentle with herself. We treat ourselves with kindness and respect.
And this idea will only become more important as my kids get older.
How will my child view herself when she bombs a test in middle school? We treat ourselves with kindness and respect.
What happens when my teenager is on a date and is getting pressure for something he or she isn’t ready for? I am worthy of respect.
But guess who this is rule is hardest for right now? Spoiler alert: It’s not the kids!
Am I trying to do all the things and wearing myself out? My body and mind are worthy of kindness and respect.
Am I having a really hard time controlling my emotions when I’m low on sleep because the baby is teething and the toddler is sick? I can treat myself with kindness and compassion.
Am I down on myself because somehow I haven’t found time to lose that last bit of baby weight while holding down a full-time job and taking care of
three four kids? We treat ourselves with kindness and respect.
And by modeling loving-kindness and respect for ourselves in front of our children, they are much more likely to foster it for themselves.
3. Families help each other.
This rule instills a healthy sense of responsibility in my children. It’s my go-to for chores!
4-year old, flopping and rolling around on floor: But I don’t want to put my clothes in the drawer!
Me, in an obnoxiously cheerful tone: Well, families help each other! I washed all these clothes, so I need you to help me put them up.
And the kids know this rule! The other day, my oldest daughter wanted her sister to play a game. When she refused at first, my oldest said said, “But families help each other!” After that, they had great time.
While invoking “families help each other” was a stretch for whatever game my oldest wanted to play, I was glad to hear that this value has been instilled in my girls!
Corollaries to our 3 family rules
These rules exist under the three main ones, but I use them often enough that I thought they would be useful to mention:
Sisters / brothers are for loving. Corollary: Sisters / brothers aren’t for hitting. No explanation needed.
We always try new foods. Check out this post on encouraging kids to try foods for a whole bunch of ideas on working with your picky eater!
We clean up our own messes. Whether my kids spill something or accidentally pee the floor, they know that to expect a matter-of-fact “We clean up our own messes.” Do they do a sufficient job on their own? Usually not. They’re still small! Are they learning to take responsibility? Yes, so that’s totally worth the extra work that their help usually entails.
We are also getting into the age where we need rules surrounding screen use, both to avoid too much screen time and to protect against dangers online. I have supporting articles around these topics too!
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Printable family rules
I hope this list of family rules has given you inspiration to create your own. And if you like them so much that you want to use them for your own family, make sure you sign up for these cute printables of the 3 family rules. There are 10 designs, so you can choose the one that best fits your home.