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Family Laws Part 2: The “Repenting Bench”

Best-selling authors, Richard and Linda Eyre, share a clever strategy to help keep the peace in your family.


Earlier this month on Studio 5 Richard and Linda Eyre described their system of family laws. In part two, the Eyres focus on the “repenting bench”. A clever strategy to address one of the most challenging family laws of all, keeping peace.
Over the years we figured it out. We needed a small number of very simple rules, each with a clear consequence for breaking it but with a provision for repentance by which apologetic children could avoid the consequence or penalty. It finally came down to five one-worders:

PEACE: Or you sit on the “repenting bench” with the other “fighter” until you can say what you did wrong — “it takes two to tangle” — and give the other kid a hug and ask him to forgive you.

RESPECT: Or we’ll start over until you get it right and give a respectful answer. If I ask you to take out the garbage and you whine about it or give an excuse, I’ll start over and try to ask you very politely but very directly, “Son, please take out the garbage.” The emphasized “please” is a trigger word to remind the child that he needs to respond respectfully and that you’ll keep starting over until he does.

ORDER: Get your room straight or face the penalty that you can’t go anywhere until you clean it up.

ASKING: We want to always know where you are, so if you forget to ask, the next time you want to go somewhere the answer will be no. The same penalty applies to curfew.

OBEDIENCE: You can ask why and I’ll try to tell you, and possibly even reconsider, but only ask why once and then obey. Remember, someday you’ll be the parent.
Some of our most interesting memories center around the law of PEACE and the “repenting bench.” Somehow we ended up with incredibly strong-willed children, and “sibling rivalries” is a pretty mild term for describing the competing, arguing, and outright fighting that crop up so predictably. We came to the “repenting bench” idea because there was no way that we, as parents, could resolve everything. Trying to figure out who was right and who was wrong – being the judge and jury, trying to decide who to punish and how – was exhausting. And we wanted (needed) the kids to learn how to resolve things for themselves.

Our “repenting bench” is a short, uncomfortable pew that we got out of an old church. The rule is simple: Any two family members who are fighting (arguing, yelling, disagreeing) have to sit together on that bench until each can tell what he did wrong (not what the other person did) and can, with a hug, say to the other, “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” We stressed that both of the “fighters” are always partly to blame.
Oh, the “repenting” we’ve seen! From kids who had to sit there for half an hour trying to figure out what they did wrong, to kids who repent on their way to the bench so they won’t have to sit there at all. The hugs and the “sorrys,” even if their main motivation is to escape the bench, have blunted bad feelings a thousand times and contributed to our children’s love for one another and to their capacity to work out their own conflicts.
Each of the four other laws has an equally interesting history and has become a part of the fabric of our family.

Family laws need regular discussion and recommitment. Setting them up in the first place needs to be a highly communicative process. Kids need to understand that the purposes of laws are safety and happiness and that they show an increase, not a decrease, of trust and of love.
Laws and rules – lovingly set, explained, and implemented – provide children with security and with a clear manifestation of a parent’s love and concern. Emphasize repeatedly that laws are about safety and happiness in living together. Compare them to traffic laws, to civic laws, to school rules. Tell them that laws show our love and concern for one another and show our desire to have a good, orderly family in which the family members care for one another – a family that gets us ready for life on our own.

Tell children that the reason you have so few laws is that you trust them and know they will always try to make good decisions. Explain that a few good rules can keep a family safe and strong and give its members more freedom.

Your own laws and rules in your own family may be different from ours, but the principles behind them should be the same: simplicity, consistency, “natural consequence” penalties, and a provision for “repentance” to avoid the penalty.

As children get older, other rules (like curfews) can be added. The rules should always be discussed, understood, and agreed upon and you should constantly emphasize that the rules are about safety and about concern for each other, not about a lack of trust or confidence in each other.

As your own family laws are developed and refined, you will be giving yourself and your family a great gift, and you will become the possessors of the second essential element!


New York Times #1 Bestselling Authors Richard and Linda Eyre are the parents of nine children and, by coincidence, the authors of 9 internationally distributed parenting and life-balance books. They lecture throughout the world on family related topics, and are the founders of Joyschools.com. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com or www.valuesparenting.com

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