Establish Clear Laws, Rewards, and Punishments

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(This is an excerpt from the book 5 Spiritual Solutions for Everyday Parenting Challenges.)

Following God’s pattern in the establishment of laws within our families can be beneficial on a number of levels.

Children who know their boundaries, even though they may complain about them, have a certain, simple security and identity that other kids don’t feel. To be always pushing the envelope and not knowing what you can get away with is not a good feeling. And to know it will depend on the mood of your mom or dad at the moment makes everything kind of like a dangerous, moving target.

We like the word “law” more than “rule.” “Law” seems to bother kids less and incite less mutiny than “rule.” And it lends itself to better comparisons in teaching small children. “Why do we have traffic laws?” “Why do we have laws in our country that people have to obey?” Most important, God calls His commandments “laws” and we want our family laws to mirror His.

One huge benefit of clearly established and consistently followed family laws is that it allows parents to be more matter-of-fact about things. Have you noticed how the best moms and dads seem pretty calm most of the time—that they manage to avoid the emotion and drama and power struggle that plague so many parents? You hear them say (calmly) things such as, “Sorry, Matt, but that’s the law,” or “Don’t blame me, you know that when the little hand is at the eight it’s time to turn out the light,” or “Thanks for telling me about your friend Tommy and what he gets to do, but in our family . . . ,” or even, “I feel your pain, son, but that’s what we agreed on.”

We have had lots of fun establishing family laws through the years. When our first two daughters were three and two we started having family home evenings about family laws. We wanted them to be involved so we explained what a law was and then asked them what they thought would be a good family law. Our three-year-old’s hand shot up and she said with confidence, “Never hit other little girls!”

“What a great idea!” we said as we saw the wheels in the mind of the two-year-old working.

“No pud in puds” (translation: “Never plug in plugs”), the two-year-old added as she remembered the lesson she had the night before when she tried to plug in a fork.

To make a long story short, we added to that list of family laws for years until one day our oldest, then eight, came to me and said, “Mom, we have thirty-three laws! We can’t even remember all of them. In the whole Bible there are only Ten Commandments!”

We immediately realized that she was right! We needed to cut and simplify! In the end we all decided on five one-word family laws, each with a consequence attached to breaking that law.

Here are the Eyre Laws:

Peace

Respect

Asking

Order

Obedience

When we asked the kids to help us decide on what the consequence should be for breaking the law, they were hilarious. Assuming they would never break the law of asking (which meant always ask before they leave and always let us know where they are), they thought that the punishment should be being confined in their room for a whole day with only bread and water.

We decided that there should be a natural consequence for breaking each law. For example the consequence for breaking the law of peace was going to the Repenting Bench (more about that in a minute). The consequence for breaking the law of respect was simply to start over. (A parent who has heard something disrespectful from the mouth of a child should say, “Let’s start over,” until the child figures out how to say what he just said with more respect.) The consequence for leaving without asking was that the child was not allowed to go the next time he wanted to go to something. The consequence for breaking the law of order (leaving the play room messy or leaving their room in a mess) was that they couldn’t play with or go with friends until it was clean. And the consequence for breaking the law of obedience was the magic word “please.” (When we asked a child to do something, if we forgot to say please, there was no obligation to do what we asked, but if we said “please” there was no way out. They had to do it!)

Of course, this is not as easy as we are making it sound. Everything needed reinforcement over and over again in family home evening. We took one law at a time and really made sure that everyone knew exactly what was meant by that one-word law and what the consequence would be for breaking it. Role-playing various situations where one of the laws would apply was helpful.

We should take pains to make the setting up and maintaining of family laws a spiritual process. As you discuss and set up your family laws, pray about them as a family. Ask which laws would help your family be happier and please God most. Call on the children to pray about them. When they are set, pray together for the strength to keep them, and ask forgiveness for the times you have not.

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