Best-selling authors, Richard and Linda Eyre, say effective family laws consist of clear rules and clear consequences.
All great and lasting institutions have a legal system, and a good family is no exception. When there are clear and simple laws in a family parents can be less emotional and more matter-of-fact, and obedience becomes more about keeping laws and less about a power struggle and parents trying to get kids to obey them rather than laws. Give your children the chance to have inputs as to what your family laws are and what punishment goes with the violation of each law.
With hindsight, we can see that our own first effort to set up family laws was rather comical. As young parents with our three young children, we tried to create a list of family rules by nomination (I think, back then, we still thought a family was a democracy!). The kids chimed in with everything from “Don’t hit anyone,” to “Never plug in plugs — you could get shocked.” We dutifully listed everyone on a big chart and we soon had thirty-seven “family laws.” No one really remembered them or paid much attention to them, and one day our seven-year-old complained, “Dad, even in the Bible there’s only ten rules!”
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.
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