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House rules,

Parents’ version

In my house, I have lots of procedures — carry plate and utensils to sink when finished eating, put 50 percent of money in ‘save’ bank and 50 percent in ‘spend’ bank — but very few rules. I don't know if this is brilliance on my part or sheer laziness. I don't want to have to remember a ton of rules and be a police officer. — Carrie Vittitoe House rule #1 ... never leave without saying “good-bye,” whether you’re heading to work, running an errand, leaving a family event, or heading to bed for the night. — Lorie Gant Leitner At this point in life our rules revolve mainly around screen time. As the mother of two confirmed vidiots and one adolescent texter, I have to lay down the law in that area. One hour on a school night and two hours on weekends, with mother's discretionary power! — Barb Hartman My husband and I recently instituted a new rule of no electronics on Sundays to enhance our traditional family/ movie/game night. — Sanna Rogers

No computer on Sundays!

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what some call “rules,” others might refer to as “expectations” or “guidelines.” If the bottom line is the same, does it matter how we go about it? Do our kids know what the rules are in the family; do they know what is expected of them? It’s a question that strikes close to the heart of all parents; are we doing our child-rearing properly? I thought it might be best to start by asking the kids themselves. I asked several kids of varying ages and genders about the house rules in their family. Afterward, I spoke to a few of their parents to get reactions to the children’s interpretations of the rules. Finally, I spoke with a counselor who offered her professional insight into the fundamental importance of rule-making in the home. Nearly every child I talked to had to first think a minute before responding to my question, “What are the rules in your house?” Once they thought about it though, I did get the information I was expecting. Common threads came from each kid: • No yelling or hitting • Use nice words • Do your chores without complaint • Be respectful of parents and each other • Don’t ride your bike without a helmet • Don’t play games or watch TV/movies that are inappropriate I even got some very specific rules from a few kids. Toby, 9, told me that he isn’t allowed to cut his brother’s hair; he said he did this once and left a bald spot. (Mom says that’s not even the way the bald spot occurred but doesn’t want to dissuade Toby from this otherwise good rule to follow.) Chase, 11, told me that if he tells his sister to “shut up” he will be grounded for a month. Lydia, 8, gave me a recitation of proper table manners that would put Miss Manners to shame! How do the kids feel about these rules? Ty, 12, tells me “There’s a lot in the world I could do bad but I can’t do here. [Following rules] will make me a good man.” Spencer, 18, who is leaving home for college and admits to feeling a bit stifled by house rules these days, agrees. “Kids have to have rules, or it would be a free-for-all.” Caleb, 11, shared that he and his brothers do their chores because it’s “just part of being a family.” Shanon, 15, has discovered the key to getting along. “If I am good to my parents, they are good to me. When we don’t communicate with mom, she worries.”

When I spoke to the mothers afterward, each felt her child had a good grasp of how to behave at home. As we all know, that doesn’t happen every day, but these kids understand clearly what they are supposed to do and what happens when they don’t behave properly. Dr. Michele Page, school counselor at Highland Hills Middle School in Indiana and licensed mental health counselor, affirms the importance of rules and structure in a family. “Kids need boundaries. The most troubled students are those with no structure.” Those are the students who often behave the worst, and they are searching desperately for rules to help them along. Dr. Page asserts that a consistent foundation is critical. While it’s important to respect individual differences in people, the core principles must be the same for all of us. “Respect, honesty, and integrity are black-and-white truths for all of us; parents can’t be wishy-washy as they instill these values in their children.” What about the delivery of those rules? Do we post them on paper around the house? Lay it all out in a family meeting? Dr. Page says each family should do what works best for them, but that it is critical to “speak it and enforce it.” Talk to your kids, be clear about what you expect, and follow through. Don’t avoid the tough conversations or sugar-coat the rules. Clarity and consistency are key. These sentiments rang true for each of the families I interviewed, although not one of the moms I talked to used the word “rules.” Christy (Ty and Toby’s mom) was pleased when she heard what her boys had shared with me. “I’m glad they don’t see these as strict rules. They just take it as normal behavior — not rules, but a way of life.” The only child who didn’t hesitate when I asked about her family rules was Lydia. She gave me a one-word answer: manners. She was able to follow it up with great examples of what it means to have good manners, but I was struck by the truth of what she had to say. That’s really the heart of all of our rules/guidelines/expectations: show some manners, be nice, be respectful. Tracy — mom to Shanon and Spencer — says it all comes down to communication and common courtesy for her. Right now, Spencer perceives her “rules” as an invasion of his privacy. [I sure remember that feeling when I was 18!] I think communication and common courtesy summarize well what all of us are trying to achieve as we raise our children. Our family rules are a way that we can communicate with each other in our parent/child relationship, and they give our children (and us) the tools we need to carry into the world at-large. After showing my boys the list of rules their friends gave me, they agreed that many of these were applicable in our house. Trace, 11, said, “I didn’t think of those as rules, Mom,” to which Lucas, 14, agreed by saying, “Those things are just common sense. It’s all about respect and treating people right.” Whew! Guess we’re on the right track after all. Megan Schreiber Willman lives in Floyds Knobs, Ind., with her husband Rob and their sons Lucas and Trace.

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AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2013

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