Don’t hit. Don’t kick. Don’t bite.
Don’t interrupt. Don’t yell at your mother. No calling your sister a poophead.
Pick up your toys, brush your teeth after breakfast, and put on your shoes when I say so—and I really mean it this time.
Ah, family rules. Every household needs them. As soon as the baby learns to spit out peas, we parents learn to say “no!” Rules are a natural part of training and protecting our children.
But they can get a little out of hand.
Early in our parenting career, my husband and I established new rules according to whatever latest boundaries our kids discovered and tested. They leapt off the sofa; we said no jumping on the furniture. They begged for marshmallows; we explained no treats for breakfast. They disagreed with bedtime; we said no escaping after lights out.
Eventually we had so many rules that our kids couldn’t remember them all—and neither could we.
Until one day a friend told us about her three-rule system. And it changed our lives.
The concept is simple. Concentrate on three core family rules, which everyone can remember. But make those rules broad enough so that nearly every behavior is encompassed within.
Here are our three:
1. Obey the first time.
Delayed obedience is disobedience. God expects us to obey him, and one of the ways we obey God is by obeying the people he put in charge of us—namely, Mom and Dad. So, kids, when we tell you to wash hands for dinner, do it. When we tell you to put socks in the hamper, do it. These aren’t individual rules but rather an overall expectation to obey the first time. (For kids younger than age three, try using the words “obey fast.”)
And why do we obey? Not just because we should. But because we want to. Obedience is an expression of love for the One who made the rules in the first place.
“If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15, NIV).
2. No sassy talk.
I have two little girls, so the term “sassy” suits us. You could say “no back talk” or “no disrespectful talk.” The concept is the same. Don’t let any words, body language, or facial expressions escape your personal space that could possibly show disrespect for Mom and Dad. That includes talking back, rolling eyes, and about a dozen different inflections of the word “whatever.”
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6, NIV).
3. No hurting someone on purpose.
You know what I love about this rule? It covers every kind of hurt—physical and emotional. No more specifying a hundred harmful actions such as kicking, biting, hitting, tripping, name-calling, belittling, ignoring and so on. Basically, if your behavior is meant to hurt somebody, it’s not allowed.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31–32, NIV).
Also, the term “on purpose” helps differentiate between intentional behavior and accidents. We have a lot of grace for accidents in our house. If you didn’t mean to whack your sister in the head while you were dancing in the living room, an apology is still in order. But since we Kopitzkes freely encourage dancing, nobody actually broke a rule.
Now I know I said this was a three-rule system, but in our family we do have one more overarching “rule.”
Always show love.
That’s God’s rule, too. So if you really want to simplify, make yours a one-rule household. After all, love covers over a multitude of sins.
“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:14, NIV).