I just finished reading Odds Bodkin’s great piece “Create A Sunny Day Rule” at Family Education. He talks about how he has a family rule which he invokes on sunny days. It comes in the form of a piece of paper taped to the TV that reads: “No TV Today. Sunny Day Rule. -Dad.” Totally Rad. I’m making a sign today. As a parent and teacher, I’m often torn between my kids’ happiness (or, at least, what they think is happiness) and what I know is good for them. My kids, of course, want to play video games, stream TV shows, and eat ice cream all day. I want them to play in the sandbox, draw, ride bikes, and read. So when, as a family, we are torn about what to do, having a set of family rules is a great way to make decisions. By invoking “family rules” like laws of nature, kids are much more accepting of limits than if you appear to just make arbitrary decisions on the spot. Of course, we all have the usual rules about not smashing glass on the floor and not drawing with a Sharpie on the wall, but here are a few other ideas that solve common problems and keep things running smoothly.
1. This-then-that rules. We have a lot of these in my family. They’re quite simple. You can’t do this until you do that. Don’t come downstairs until you’re dressed and your bed is made (on school days). You can’t leave the table without taking your plate to be cleared. No TV until the piano has been practiced. You have to finish your daily reading before you turn on the Wii. This-then-that rules are simple, efficient, pre-agreed upon routines, and, usually, they keep things flowing fairly smooth in a busy, small house.
2. TV Limits: I think it is very important to have rules about TV limits that the kids can self-monitor. Instead of pulling the plug in disgust in the middle of a cartoon marathon (and causing a tantrum), it is better to have a set time limit that has been pre-agreed upon together. And it is very important that the kids do the monitoring (with your help). It’s amazing the difference. Kids like clear guidelines. They like control. This satisfies both needs. Instead of you screaming at them to stop watching or playing, the family law is dictating that they stop. I like this rule a lot because it forces kids to pre-plan their screen time. My kids like to bank it up. And once they use it, they don’t bother asking for more. Family rule. Warning: you have to follow the rules, too.
3. Finally, I believe strongly in having pre-arranged criteria for tough decision-making. I’ve written about these before, about how I make decisions. These are like if-then statements for life which can make it easier to make choices as a family (and deal with a sibling fight). Again, they must be pre-agreed upon. Here are some of my personal examples:
-If the choice is between an outdoor activity and an indoor one (one son wants the mall, the other the park), we pick the outdoor one.
-If the choice is between a passive activity and an active one (the gym versus the movies), we pick active.
-If you don’t know what you’re going to watch, you can’t turn on the TV (no surfing).
-My favorite: if you’re walking around bored, with nothing to do, then you have to pick a chore, a book, or go outside.
It’s not that we never go to the mall or the movies, but when there’s a family moment of indecision, it’s amazing how these simple guidelines can solve a conflict just by invoking a “family rule.”
Of course, with all of these, the old saying holds: rules are made to be broken. We do that a lot, too.
What are some other ideas for family rules or routines?
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