Almost every time we open our parenting lectures to question and answer, many of the queries are about obedience. “How can I get my kids to obey?”
The thing is, we need to define what we mean by obedience. Do we mean we want our kids to obey us like little soldiers, saluting and doing everything we say right now without question or comment? Do we want them to be little obedience machines who never think for themselves? And do we want to be all about disciplining them and punishing them whenever they do not obey?
Actually, when most parents think about it, the obedience they really want to teach to their kids is obedience to laws more than obedience to parents. And the better laws we have and the more people obey them, the less need there is for ordering them around and demanding obedience to us.
Every family that wants to have even a chance of running smoothly and of raising orderly and respectful children needs a set of family rules or laws.
With hindsight, we can see that our own first efforts to set up family laws in our house were rather comical. As young parents with 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 every one of them on a big chart and we soon had thirty-seven “family rules.” 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 commandments!”
By the way, we found that most kids respond better to the word “laws” than to the word “rules.”
“Rule” sounds a little too arbitrary and authoritarian, while “law” sounds a little less threatening, yet strong. And kids get that there are traffic laws, and country laws, and city laws and that they are there to protect us and keep us safe and help us live happily together.
Over the years we figured out that we needed a small number of very simple family laws, 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:
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.
Or we’ll start over until you get it right and give a respectful answer.
Get your room straight or face the penalty that you can’t go anywhere until you clean it up.
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. (also applies to curfews)
You can ask why and your parent will try to tell you, and possibly even reconsider, but only ask why once and then obey. Remember, someday you’ll be the parent.
Looking back now, over twenty-five years of trying to establish and live these five family laws, we find that some of our most cherished memories are wrapped up in them (from heated curfew discussions to everyone pitching in to help a child get his room cleaned up so he could go out without breaking a law).
Family laws need regular discussion and recommitment. Setting them up in the first place needs to be a highly communicative process. Kids need to understand that the purposes of laws are safety and happiness and that they show an increase, not a decrease, of trust and of love.
Family laws – lovingly set, explained, and implemented – provide children with security and with a clear manifestation of a parent’s love and concern. (We actually like the term “laws” better than “rules.” It sounds less dictatorial and arbitrary, and lends itself to good comparisons.)
Emphasize repeatedly that laws are about safety and happiness in living together. Compare your family laws to traffic laws, to civic laws, to the laws of our country. Tell your children that laws show our love and concern for one another and show our desire to have a good, orderly family in which the family members care for one another and respect each other.
Richard and Linda are New York Times #1 bestselling authors who lecture throughout the world on family related topics. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com or www.joyschools.com. Several of their books are now available for free on www.EyresFreeBooks.com.