Anyone with children should know by now that, what we call, "family rules" are really more like guidelines, and are completely negotiable. In fact, with the right combination of argument, debate, and whine, family rules can be easily undermined and overcome to the point of complete disintegration. At least that's what they think.
There is only one remedy, and I've watched enough People's Court over the years to know that it's true. You've got to put it in writing... put it all in writing. I don't know why I didn't think of this before.
So, we have a brightly colored, laminated list of written rules posted on a bulletin board, that hangs in our upstairs hallway. It used to hang downstairs in the foyer, by the staircase, but it was too often overlooked, and definitely needed to be more visible. The new location is in the upstairs hallway, where it faces all of their bedrooms, and is visible whenever they come and go.
It took three days for my husband and I to decide on our rules, to be sure that they are reasonable and rational expectations, so take your time and consider your rules carefully. Rules that will not only keep chaos out of your home, but basic rules of civilization, that can set the kids up to hold better values throughout their lifetime. They are not merely rules, they are commandments.
We called a family meeting to order, and Hubsy and I fully explained the rules, even giving examples and laying out possible scenarios. We covered all the bases here, so that there can never be any confusion, that may lead to the chaos that I'm trying to avoid.
The House Rules
1) Honesty. This means no outright lying, fibbing, altering, or omitting information, especially when directly asked.
2) No Taking of Other's Property. Whether it's cash from my wallet, or coins from your sister's piggy bank; or property such as using your brother's cellphone, or your sister's Wii remote... there is be no using any object that belongs to someone else, without their expressed (not implied) permission. You must ask and they must say yes. Period.
3) Do What You Are Asked To Do: Example: "it's time to get off of the computer and get ready for bed", "be home from your friend's house by 6:00", "you can only have three cookies before dinner".
4) Speaking Properly. There is to be no whining or raising of the voice when addressing your parents, persons of authority, or any other adult while they are guests in our home.
5) Cleaning Up After Yourself. This is Mom's pet peeve. Pick your wet towels up off of the bathroom floor! Put your shoes in the closet! See that your cereal bowl finds it way to the sink! etc. etc. etc.
6) Hygiene. Encompassing every aspect of personal care and cleanliness: brushing teeth at least twice a day, skin care, washing and brushing hair, bathing, using deodorant, and washing hands after bathroom use or outdoor play.
7) Schoolwork. Not just homework, and grades, but all forms of proper school conduct. No negative phone calls or emails from teachers. Don't call me from the nurse's office and try to get yourself picked up for a simple ailment that will pass shortly.
8) No Physical Fighting. Isn't this self explanatory? No hitting, kicking, pushing, biting, slapping, tying your sister to a tree... Basically keep your hands and feet to yourself.
9) Daily Chores. Completing all chores that are specifically required of you every day. Maybe you have dish duty, walking the dog, or cleaning out the kitty litter. (We also made a chart of chores).
10) Respect. This one can be tricky, and sort of wraps a lot of things up into one category. We try to limit this to eye rolling, disrespectful comments like "whatever", name calling, slamming doors, and other similar behaviors.
Along with our House Rules, we created an infraction chart; a calendar of the seven days of the week for each child, from the grade school-er to the high school graduate. It is also laminated, so that we can write on it with a dry erase marker, and easily wipe it clean, for reuse. If you can't laminate your chart, then just make copies of it, and put up a fresh chart every Monday morning, or whatever day you might choose on which to start a new week.
When an infraction occurs we write the number of the rule that was broken (#4, #8) on that day, and there will be a small repercussion. Usually two to three hours without a particular privilege. Something like two hours without your MP3 player or phone, or no video game on any platform for three hours.
Now, we are not expecting perfection. They are just human, after all, and two of mine can truly be classified as children. Two infractions a day can be forgivable, although they still get the above mentioned repercussion, per mark. But once the third mark is made, in the span of one day, the offender will now suffer the immediate removal of their favorite privilege, and to be without it for the entire following day.
Yes, you should keep your consequences small, and for brief periods of time. Kids can't really anticipate something that far in advance. After two weeks without the PlayStation or a cellphone, some kids sort of lose hope of ever having it back. Keep the reward foreseeable.
Acceptable behavior within a family is a matter of conditioning, and the earlier you start the better. The rules will vary from household to household, depending on what various children struggle with. Give it much consideration before you commit to the chart, because once it's written, it cannot be changed. It is written in stone. You don't want to mess with consistency.
Once our chart went into play, I found a great pressure lifted off of my shoulders. I am no longer the bad guy, the meanie, the bitch. I get to just refer to the chart, and say something like:
"My hands are tied" or
"So let it be written, so let it be done."