While “don’t jump on the bed” and “clean your room” are all great household rules, I prefer to focus on family rules that teach my kids about what truly matters in life. Keep reading for the most important ones that we follow.
Family Rules That Focus on What TRULY Matters in Life
Every family has a list of household rules that they want their kids to follow. Clean your room. Don’t jump on your bed. Don’t hit your little brother.
Sure, these are all important rules for maintaining some semblance of order in your home. In many ways, they even help prepare kids for adulthood. After all, we grownups can’t just go around hitting people and jumping on beds. Or at least we shouldn’t. 😉
To me, though, raising responsible and decent human beings has to be about more than just picking up your laundry and not jumping on beds. I want my kids to grow up to be kind, care about others, follow their dreams, love their family. To be happy, healthy, and well-rounded individuals who embrace their uniqueness.
So, along with all of the typical household mandates that help maintain order, I have a list of family rules that focus on what TRULY matters in life. I’m sharing them with you below in no particular order, along with some inspirational gentle parenting quotes that go along with them.
1. Put your family first
I know I said that these are in no particular order, but this is the exception. It’s our #1 rule and something that I hope my kids follow throughout their entire lives. Above all else, remember that family is everything. Put them first.
Now, I don’t mean that I want my kids to take an “I take care of me and mine only” approach to life. In other words, put family first, but not at the expense of others. When I tell my kids to put their family first, I’m thinking in terms of spending time together, loving each other, and being there for one another.
2. Do good for others without expecting anything in return
I saw a quote (below) that said, “Do good for others. It will come back to you in unexpected ways.” I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it is true. You really never know how a good deed will come back to you.
On the other hand, though, I want my kids to do good things for others, period. Not because they think it will give them good karma or something, or because they’re hoping they’ll get something out of it, but because it’s the right thing to do.
3. Give second chances, but be smart about it
In our family, we forgive each other and give second chances when someone messes up. Everyone makes mistakes. As long as they own up to them (more on that in a moment) they deserve a chance to show you that they’ve learned and changed.
I don’t want my kids growing up thinking that their past defines them. Teaches them valuable life lessons? Yes. Helps them grow and evolve? Absolutely. But defines who they are today? Nope, not at all.
However, I don’t want my kids to let people repeatedly hurt them. So, there’s a second part to that rule: be smart about giving second chances. If someone accidentally hurts you and is genuinely sorry, by all means, forgive. If they intentionally hurt you, though, they’re showing you who they really are. Don’t give them another opportunity to knock you down.
4. Be responsible for your own actions
Second chances are for people who own their actions. So, if my kids want one, first they have to show me that they’re willing to take responsibility for whatever they did wrong in the first place. They need to apologize like they actually mean it (preferably because they do actually mean it) and acknowledge how their actions hurt someone else.
Being responsible for their own actions is about more than just being sorry when they do something wrong, though. It’s also about being proud when they do something right. It’s about owning ALL of their actions- good and bad.
I want them to know that negative actions have negative consequences, yes. But I also want them to know that positive actions have positive consequences (the word itself doesn’t mean something bad, it just means “a result or effect of an action or condition.”) That hard work pays off, and that they alone are responsible for making their dreams come true.
5. Listen when others are talking
This one is pretty straightforward and doesn’t need much explanation. I expect my kids to be courteous to others, and a big part of that means actively listening when someone else is talking.
Sometimes, that means not tuning out something just because it doesn’t interest them. Other times, it means waiting until it’s your turn during a conversation that does interest them. I think that the second one is actually harder for most kids, honestly. If more people took the time to actively listen to each other, I think we’d have a lot more peace in this world. Maybe not total world peace, but definitely a lot more than we have right now.
6. Talk back, but do it respectfully
One of my least favorite family rules is “don’t talk back.” I want my kids to “talk back,” to ask questions and better understand why I tell them they can’t do something. I feel like kids are more inclined to listen if they feel like they’ve been heard, too.
However- and this is a BIG however- they MUST do it respectfully. If I say, “No, I’m sorry, you can’t go to your friend’s house tonight,” and they start screaming about how unfair I am and how much they hate me, that’s grounds for a time out. On the other hand, if they express in a calm manner that they don’t understand why I won’t allow it and politely ask for clarification, I take the time to explain my reasons.
I do this for two reasons. First, it teaches my kids how to have an open and civil conversation with someone that they disagree with- a lesson that many adults today need to learn.
Second, I feel teaching kids to blindly follow orders just because someone in a position in authority “said so” is just plain dangerous. More kids are abused by adults that they perceive as authority figures, and they go along with what’s asked of them because they’re taught not to “talk back” to grownups. So, I want them to ask questions when something doesn’t feel right.
6. Be yourself, believe in yourself, and stand up for yourself
“Be and believe in yourself” sounds like a strange family rule, or at least one that’s hard to uphold, but it’s actually among our most important of all. Bear with me for a moment and you’ll see why.
I never want my kids to hide their true selves from the world or tuck away aspects of their personalities just to appease others. I want them to really embrace themselves, follow their passions, and do what they love. To believe that they are beautiful and unique, just as everyone on this planet is in their own ways.
I also want my kids to stand up for themselves, and to never feel like they have to justify something that they love. I want them to know that it’s okay to like something even if your friends don’t and that no one has a right to rain on their parade.
Together, this three-part rule not only helps my kids feel more confident and comfortable in their own skin, but it helps them avoid peer pressure. It goes a lot farther than just saying, “Just say no,” or “Don’t jump off a bridge just because your friends are,” in my opinion.
7. Try something on your own first, then ask for help if you need it
I want to raise responsible kids who are capable of doing things for themselves. At the same time, I want them to know that it’s always okay to ask for help and that I’ll always be there when they need me.
So, one of our family rules is “try first, then ask.” Obviously, within reason and common sense. I don’t expect my kids to try to do age-inappropriate or dangerous things themselves first. I also don’t expect to do things that they physically cannot do.
But when it’s something that they could do on their own, I expect them to at least try first. If they can’t do it, I expect them to not be too proud to ask for a helping hand.
8. Don’t control your emotions. Control how those emotions make you act.
I saw a list of “rules every parent should give their kids” that included “control your emotions,” and it really bothered me. Emotions, by their very nature, are uncontrollable. They come when they come and go when they go. If we bottle them up and pretend that they don’t exist, they’ll explode out of us at the worst possible moment. Believe me, I know.
We can’t control how we feel at any given time. However, we CAN control how we react to those emotions. We CAN control whether or not we allow those emotions to affect the way we treat others. So, here’s my rule: don’t bottle things up or try to control how you feel but do control how those emotions make you act towards others.
If I’m having a really bad day, for example, I don’t just try to pretend that everything is peachy keen. I accept that I’m sad or mad about it and feel my feelings. Maybe I talk it out with my husband or let my kids know why I’m feeling blue (if it’s something that’s appropriate to talk about with them, of course). What I don’t do, though, is take it out on them or let those feelings affect how I treat them.
9. Always say “I love you” before going to sleep (even if you’re mad)
“Never go to bed angry” is great in theory, but in reality, it’s flawed. Sometimes someone really ticks you off and you can’t just get over it just because it’s bedtime. Pretending that you’re not mad anymore directly contradicts “don’t bottle up your emotions.”
So, rather than telling my kids that they MUST make up before bed, I have a different rule: always say “I love you” every night, even if you’re REALLY mad at each other. This really lays the groundwork for teaching my kids that you don’t have to agree or heck, even like -each other all of the time to still love each other.
10. Be a good sport whether you win or lose
Last, but not least, I expect my kids to be gracious whether they win or lose. That goes for everything from games to arguments. If my daughter beats my son at checkers, I expect them both to say, “good game.” If my son loses a tennis match, I expect him to congratulate his opponent.
I’m not saying they can’t celebrate their victories or be sad about their defeats. Winning is fun and losing is disappointing. I just want them to act like decent human beings regardless of which side of victory they come out on.
Before we say goodbye for today, I just want to share one last really wonderful quote from the poet and author SARK. She wrote, “How to Really Love a Child: Be there. Say YES as often as you can. Let them bang on pots and pans. If they’re crabby, put them in water. Read books out loud with joy. Go find elephants and kiss them. Encourage silly. Giggle a lot. Remember how really small they are. Search out the positive. Keep the gleam in your eye. Go see a movie in your pajamas. Teach feelings. Realize how important it is to be a child. Plan to build a rocket ship. Stop yelling. Express your love. A lot. Children are miraculous.”
These are just some of the family rules we live by that I feel focus on the things that really matter. Not only do they help me raise more responsible, kind, and good kids today, but they’re lessons that my kids can carry with them for life.