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Do you have written up 'family rules' or a 'family contract'?

(28 Posts)
Mo2 Thu 06-Jan-05 12:59:17

DH & I both work full-time, so share most of the parenting stuff of our two DSs (aged 5 and 2.5). Over the Christmas break it's become clear to us that at times we are pretty inconsistent between us about some of our 'rules' and behaviour expectations, and also any punishments for naughty behaviour are fairly ad hoc, random and depend on what's going on at the time.

Sort of things we mean are:
- eating at table together - is it OK to leave once you've finished, but not others
- how long is OK for DS1 to spend in the computer/ his gameboy/ watching TV etc
- how much 'playfighting' is OK - when is it time to call time and stop etc.
- how much we allow the kids to 'trash' our living room (building piles of cushions in floor etc)

We've come to the conclusion that it might work better for us & DS1 in particular if we drew up a family 'contract' for both him and us.

I can imagine this might seem a bit formal/ weird to some people, but I've also heard anecdotally that this has worked for some families (especially popular in the US?)

Just wondered if anyone had any experience/ ideas, or had been through any similar evaluation of their 'rules' ?

Mo2 Thu 06-Jan-05 13:15:30

Have just been searching the web about this, and found the following as an example of what I mean...(we wouldn't particularly subscribe to the religious bit though):

family rules

FlashingRudolphNose Thu 06-Jan-05 13:22:29

I think most children benefit from understanding the "rules" of the house, whatever they may be, otherwise it makes things very confusing for them. I know things are certainly happier and quieter in our house when I don't let things slip and reiterate what the rules are on a fairly regular basis. Looking at your examples, during the week when dh and I don't eat with the kids, ds (aged 6) can leave the table when he's finished - he's a good eater and his sisters take sooooo long. But at weekends when we all eat together, he has to stay at the table until everyone's finished. He knows that and doesn't argue with it. Again, during the week he's allowed 30 mins on his football game (I put the kitchen timer on) - he never quibbles when it's time to come off. But at the weekends when he's allowed on for longer, it's much more of an issue getting him to finish.

Sorry, I've rambled but basically wanted to say that whatever you want to call them, house rules are a must for everyone!

noddyholder Thu 06-Jan-05 13:28:11

i don't think children that young would get the concept they are too busy being kids!May work when they are older

roisin Thu 06-Jan-05 13:33:38

We do sit down all together from time to time and have 'family council' when we discuss issues, and make joint decisions.

On one of these occasions we drew up a list of 'house rules', which we then printed out and put up. We have found this to be a very positive experience, as our boys (4 and 6 at the time) helped to draw up the rules, agreed to them, and therefore 'own them'; so there is no dispute if they are broken.

Interestingly our house rules are rather different from the ones you describe. We do have unwritten but specific rules about TV watching, behaviour at table, and in the lounge, etc. But the 'house rules' we drew up ended up being more principles to live by. We grouped them under three sections, but there are also several specific examples under each section:
We always do our best
We respect each other
We respect property

weightwatchingwaterwitch Thu 06-Jan-05 14:28:46

Hi Mo2, we have typed rules on the wall. There are only about 6 of them, things like 'use a normal voice' (i.e. no wingeing/shouting) 'violence is unacceptable' and 'we all have to help each other'. We tried to use positive language and my son delights in telling me if he thinks I've broken a rule as he knows they apply to all of us. Playstation is limited to twice a week at set times. We eat together sometimes and not others so there's no set rule on that and mine don't fight each other yet so not applicable in our case. I like our rules and so does ds. A friend has 'do as you're told' and I'm not keen tbh since for example, I don't think any of us should be able to 'order' others to do things. I don't expect ds to blindly obey at all times. But anyway, they work for us.

weightwatchingwaterwitch Thu 06-Jan-05 14:30:11

So ours are similar to roisin's (sorry didnt read other posts before I posted) in that we don't have set rules for everything, but general ones about behaviour and attitude.

FlashingNose Thu 06-Jan-05 14:30:22


wwww, you really do talk a lot of sense. Will you come and do a "Little Angels" in my house please?

Mo2 Thu 06-Jan-05 14:35:28

roisin - actually, I think your sort of 'rules' are the sort I'd be more comfortable with - especially if things were then able to be grouped more underneath each section e.g. respect each other means 'don't hurt each other' etc; respect property means tidying things up at the end of the day; not causing unnecessary dirt or damage etc.

Noddyholder - I agree that our 2.5 year old would be too young, but our 5 year old would not - part of the problem we have is that he is already openly challenging the fact that dh & I have 'different rules' at different times.
Also he is very aware of the 'school rules' which are pretty heavily reinforced in his school - these are very much along the lines of Roisin's above.

Mo2 Thu 06-Jan-05 14:36:49

I agree - WWW DOES ALWAYS talk a lot of sense! She is my parenting guru....

weightwatchingwaterwitch Thu 06-Jan-05 14:37:52

thank you!

Sonnet Thu 06-Jan-05 15:09:39

My dd's school have a set of 6 golden rules of the type whcih Rosin says. We have adopted them for use at home - good positive experience from that.
Dom't have written rules about TV, computer time etc but they are sort of built into our dialy rountines. DD's also undertand that if they are naughty ie break the rules they loose a minute of TV/computer time. They are warned first that it will happen and if offence is comitted again then off comes a minute - works a treat. It is also the same as the school does. All children from yr 1 to 3 have 20 mins of "golden time" on a friday and displine at school is in the form of loosing minutes.

amynnixmum Thu 06-Jan-05 15:29:35

We decided to do this when ds agression was causing problems at school. Our rules are similar to roisins as well in that they are about how we treat each other etc. At school they were not keen on the idea of a family contract and said that at just 4 ds was too young. We decided to call them our golden rules for living instead as that seemed less formal. In spite of the school's reservations both ds at 4 and dd at 6 contributed to our rules and are (mostly) happy to live by them. We sat round the table and took it in turns to come up with rules for things we didn't want like hitting and also an equal number of rules for things we did want like more fun and affection. Its been hard work to always live by them but we are trying and we are going to have a big family treat soon as a reward

roisin Thu 06-Jan-05 16:28:36

Gosh - aren't we all in agreement with each other! Our specifics are just the kind of things others have mentioned:
We treat each other fairly
We listen to each and speak clearly
We play in an appropriate place, etc.

And yes, the rules apply to adults as well as children

Mo2 Thu 06-Jan-05 16:32:52

So where are you (& DH?) allowed to 'play' then Roisin???

roisin Thu 06-Jan-05 16:58:01

NOT on the stairs, of course

Mo2 Thu 06-Jan-05 21:29:03

Just 'bumping' this for any views from the MN 'evening shift'..

Tortington Fri 07-Jan-05 13:19:44

i think you and your dh need to agree some rules before putting them to the kids.

in our house when you finish eating you ask " please may leave the table and wash my plate"

sometimes we say yes sometimes not it depends if we are in the middle of a conversation and the person who asked was a bit inconsiderate in asking at that point - that kind of thing - or if we want to talk to the kids about something in particular thats getting up our parental noses we might ask them to stay whilst we discuss it.

the issue around the bombsite in your living room again this comes down to respect for others things. and i think maybe if you are going to do rules you should maybe think about that as an overarching issue

we do not have written down rules but things that have to be done in a certain order after school - mainly for organisational reasons. so no leisure time unless homework is completed - if no homework you get a chore. after that its usually about tea time anyway after that they can do what ever floats their boat - play out - play on game boys or ps2 or puter. its usually not more than an hour and half anyway.

what i find works fantastically - and i cannot recommend this highly enough is when booking a holiday and spending money or special trips - for my work i usually have a flip chart stand and paper with me and its usually stored at home until i need it which isnt all that often really - anyway, we all sit down and agree the value in monetary terms of chores in comparison with other chores - so as everyone hates washing up with venom, they would rather sweep the floors of two rooms than wash the pots so we credit accodingly
hope this ramble helps

roisin Fri 07-Jan-05 14:38:52

Custardo - why do you think Mo2 should agree some rules with her dh first?

We drew up rules together as a family, and I was stunned how sensible and responsible my (usually extremely silly and irresponsible) young boys were. They came up with very wise suggestions, and it was clear that they realised that they were making a real contribution, that would be listened to, it wasn't just a pretence at democracy.

amynnixmum Fri 07-Jan-05 14:42:37

I agree with roisin but then custardo's rules seemed to be more formal rules such as when you can leave the table etc rather than principles to live by. My two children also made sensible contributions for both the things we didn't want in our house such as hitting and shouting, and also for the things we did such as laughing and cuddles.

Tortington Fri 07-Jan-05 20:02:52

i think if you and your partner come from fundementally different points of view ( which i understand from the original posters comments) with regards to something like leaving the table when finishing a meal - then when it comes to a family conference, all the kids are going to see is how well to wind up mum and dad, whereas clearly a discussion which doesnt have to involve the children could take place first.

whereas with something like violence - that everyone i assume comes from the same POV you can sit down genuinly - with no pretence and begin from the standpoint that we all agree hitting shouldnt be allowed and go on from there.

i think if your going to draw up rules the adults should fundementally agree at their starting point.

however thinking on this more...
am not quite clear how a 5 year old can truly be democratic in their contribution. i imagine it would be "mummy thinks hitting is wrong. what do you think?........should we put it on our rules then?" what if little johnny said "no"? whereas the sentament may be great, i think decision making processes here are being handled to make the child "own" the rule. decision making processes in their entirity with no handling from adults could turn out to be negative. but the important bit is that although the child may percieve itself to be fully involved it is being manipulated to own a rule - for an adult reason - like messy house, hitting etc - there is no democratic process with a 5 year old
i think you can get a group of 10 year olds round a table and do a formal rule setting exercise - but for a 2.5 and 5 yr old i think that it should be handled carefully in the full knowledge that what you are doing is trying to get your child to "own" a message which you can get them to understand thereby overcoming a particular problem affecting the household. whilst am sure there are the exceptions and i bet everyone has the most articulate little 5 year old, i know that in my experience - which is all i give on mumsnet i dont think a 5 year old will be fully participating in the process but rather "handled" to over come a problem as mentioned before. i understand some people may disagree but then that is a good thing it then provides different points of views for the original poster to take into consideration.
i think with very young children you would have to handle the situation very carefully so it doesnt feel like a very serious situation and oppressing to the child.

roisin Fri 07-Jan-05 20:47:36

I do agree Custardo that there can be big problems if parents disagree with each other, especially when the children start to realise this.

But with regards to children and decision-making I don't really agree at all. I have actually changed my thinking on this, and it's one of my current passions and interests. IME if you give children - as young as 5 - opportunities to think reflectively and philosophically, and have high expectations of them, they will meet those expectations and respond appropriately. I don't think it's applicable for 2 yr olds, and probably not for most under-5s. But most 5 yr-olds are quite capable of this, if they are given the opportunity.

They can learn to think for themselves, to learn that their opinions are valued, and to learn to listen to the opinions of other people, and to come to common decision accepted by everybody.

I chatted with my boys today about our house rules, and they want to re-draft them. I'm not sure what they want to amend - something about tidying up I think - but I am happy to listen to them, and if they have reasonable thought-through suggestions then we can work with them.

Tortington Fri 07-Jan-05 21:01:48

i am agreeing with you (i think) but seeing it differently ..confused? i am. you work with them... you see. you are manipulating the situation to create an outcome which suits the adult - yes? its not a bad thing am not saying it is but its not west wing for 5 year old is what i am saying - and its what it sounds like it is as an idealistic principle

roisin Fri 07-Jan-05 21:46:29

I'm definitely confused now!

tigermoth Sat 08-Jan-05 10:14:09

we don't have any formal house rules at home apart from heatlh and safety ones, like no kicking footballs inside. Behaviour rules depend on the individual - whether child or adult.

Our sons know we have general expectations about behaviour, but I expect less from my 5 year old than my 10 year old. My dh and I have our own unspoken rules. They are a matter between ourselves

I cannot imagine us as a family drawing up ddetailed rules. Broad principles we agree on, yes of course. The amount of playfighting and trashing of rooms allowed at any time depends on lots of factors. for instance, on christmas morning, it is ok if they will trash the living room for an hour or so. Trashing is not acceptable just before we have guests for supper.

I want to train my sons to exercise their own judgement. I try and tell them the plans for the weekend, ask what they want to do, work out how they fit in. They know in advance when I will be busy and stressed, and also when we can all chill out as a family. No strict rules, more a timetable and expectations.

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