Household Rules - Keep It Simple

When I was in high school, our first day of school was basically nothing but going from classroom to classroom listening to teachers list out their rules and get handouts for the semester. It was boring. And the rules were more or less the same going from classroom to classroom. There would be a list of somewhere between 5 to 10 of them listed somewhere near the front of the room. No this, no that, etc... But there was one class I went to and it had one rule - just one.

  • Be respectful

That was it. The class started, and the teacher said, "You can see that I only have one rule, and that's because I only need one. I use to have a list of like 20, and I realized it was getting too long. Then I reread them and thought they could all be summarized with one - Be respectful."

I thought about that, a lot.

Let's start off with the fact that rules are easier to follow when there's fewer of them. It's hard to remember when the rules go on and on because there are too many to keep track of.

Worse than having too many to keep track of are rules that keep changing. "Hug grandma even though you don't want to - you don't want to hurt her feelings" at 5 but "You don't have to interact physically with anyone that you don't want to" at 16. Rules that keep changing send mixed messages, and I tend to believe that when we instill certain ideals early on, it can be very difficult to change later.

My husband and I took this philosophy and applied it to how we are choosing to raise our son.

He has very few rules. First and foremost among them is - Be respectful - more on that later. Beyond that the rules vary a bit from situation to situation but the agreement is that when Mama and Papa make a rule it's for his health and safety or out of respect. This also helped us to examine whether or not the rule should even be made, and why we felt the need to make it. If it wasn't being made to preserve his health and safety then is it truly a rule or just a thing to discuss?

For example - when we are getting in and out of the car, he loves to exert his independence by opening the car door, getting into the car, and buckling in - all by himself. He also wants to unbuckle, open the car door, and get out of the car - all by himself. This all sounds great, but he's a 5-year-old who isn't completely aware of other cars getting into and out of neighboring parking spaces. He's not aware of whether his side of the car will open to a sidewalk or to a street. So for his safety, the rule is - no opening the car door unless a parent says it's okay. This allows us to tell him when to open the door and which car door to open and why, helping him to develop the skills to do it for himself as he gets older.

As he got older (around 3) and putting toys in his mouth was no longer appropriate (because for a time, mouthing toys is part of development), we made a rule about what could and could not go into his mouth - Only food, medicine, and drinks.

My favorite rule so far has to do with his self-discovery. When he was about 18 months - 2 years old, he discovered his penis. He, like many little boys, liked to play with it any chance he got. I didn't want to make a rule that he couldn't touch himself - it is his body - but I didn't want to walk into the living room to find him watching TV and diddling himself either. So we made a rule that fell into the respect category. Out of respect for others around him, he can play with his private parts in the bathroom or in his bedroom. I feel like this is a rule I can keep well into his teen years.

Minimizing our rules has been incredibly helpful for us and for our son. By asking ourselves does this help to maintain his health, his safety, foster respect; will we need to keep revising this rule as he ages; will we be able to teach him the tools he needs to maintain this rule for himself, we have been able to create an environment with simpler rules that are easy to remember and follow.