5 Family Rules for Sanity

by Ivory Soap on 05/05/2011

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Photo by Adwriter

To run peacefully, every house needs rules.  The following five rules cover all the bases for our four kids.

The Rules

  1. Tell the truth.
  2. Use your manners.
  3. Respect each other.
  4. Obey immediately.
  5. Tidy after every activity.

These are posted on the fridge.  The explanations, however, are not.  We repeat these explanations so often that we all have them memorized.


1.  “Tell the truth” means we answer the question asked, honestly, completely, and without making up excuses, even if it means we won’t get what we want.

2.  “Use your manners,” means that we:

  • say May I, Please and Thank you to everyone
  • answer adults with Ma’am, and Sir
  • wait our turn and do not interrupt
  • take our squabbles to the “conference room”
  • chew with our lips closed
  • are quiet when grown-ups are talking

3.  “Respect each other” means that we treat each other’s bodies, property, time, and feelings with respect. We are never rude with our hands, our words, or our behavior.

4.  “Obey immediately” means that we do what authority figures tell us at once, without complaint or excuse, and without finishing what we were doing.

5.  “Tidy after every activity,” means that we clean up, wipe down, and put away everything we got out before we walk away from an area.


First, they get one warning. I make them come to me, or I go to them, make close eye contact and speak in a calm, low voice. It sounds something like this: “We respect each other. Poking your sister is rude. You will treat her body with respect. This is your one reminder.” A trip to the fridge to see the rule list is a helpful addition to mark the occasion.

Second time, they go to their rooms, or time out, depending on our current location. No drama from Mama, just “No, sir. We respect each other. You must sit for being disrespectful to your sister. We are not rude with our hands.”  Once they emerge from time out, they are asked what they did to get sent there.  (If they can’t remember, they may get up-downs until they remember.  Usually takes about two.)  And then the rule is repeated. “You will respect others. You will not be rude with your hands, words, or behavior.”


When these rules are first implemented, I won’t lie, everyone will spend a lot of time in time-out. You’ll think all you do is talk in children’s faces and recite definitions.

Mine were so incapable of obeying if I left the room (and even when we were in the room), we declared them “untrustworthy. They had to stay in our sight until we felt we could trust them away from our sight. (For anyone who has read On the Banks of Plum Creek, we totally stole that speech and punishment from Pa Ingalls.)

The biggest predictor of compliance is the low-talking explanations in the face. I am one of those parents who doesn’t like to expend energy. I don’t want to get up. I can tell when I haven’t been reciting definitions up close lately. They start to slip and I start that rhetorical fussing. “Why do you treat each other this way? When has that behavior ever been allowed here?”

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

JavaLady May 5, 2011 at 11:08 pm


Tina Jenkins May 6, 2011 at 12:13 am

Love it, will implement with my family.

Alli May 6, 2011 at 5:24 am

Thanks for the tips. They have been bookmarked and will come in handy when we have our own kids! 🙂

Amber May 6, 2011 at 7:02 am

I am printing this RIGHT NOW. My daughter has been having issues with lying to us and her teacher. Perhaps seeing it everyday will help things get better. Thank you SO much.

stitchknit May 6, 2011 at 7:38 am

Love this! I’ve been a foster parent for decades and I run such a tight ship the kids (and most adults) tell me it seems like a cross between a prison & a convent. But, I don’t care. I come up with delightful adults, in the long run!
Keep up the work! Your kids will thank you.

Dani May 6, 2011 at 11:39 am

This is complete common sense to my generation – and how wonderful to read it, and see it writtten so clearly and concisely – thank you.

However, with two of my own, and a precious grandson – the Rules, and Explantions, that I, as a child, was brought up with, and can so identify with as you described above, became inconsequential in the face of peer pressure for my / our children. Peer presure is the worst infliction to hit “children”. It robs them of their pleasure in life. It dictates their way forward, and is ultimately the hinderance of their futures. How strong does a child have to be to withstand peer pressure. How many adults can withstand that?

Thank you – for reminding me that there is sanity out there.

Alyssa May 6, 2011 at 11:46 am

These are so good! They make me want to put them on a sampler for when I have a family 🙂

Kris May 6, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Wonderful! We are going to work on this immediately. I find myself constantly saying “Why do you act like that??” But it means nothing to them. I need to be calm and consistent.

Ginny May 8, 2011 at 9:45 pm

This is a really good, consistent idea. Five simple rules that everyone in the house knows…why didn’t we think of this? Thanks for the post, I’ll be printing it out and it goes on our fridge, too. Sanity would be good, I’m forgetting what it’s like.

Ashley June 24, 2012 at 9:51 pm

When I click the link for “up-downs” I find a channels.com with no episode on it. I’m really curious: what are up-downs?

Thanks for a concise and practical article. I wish all moms would drop the ‘drama from mama.’ It’s so confusing for kids.

Ivory Soap June 28, 2012 at 7:46 am

Thank you for telling me. I changed the link. See if it works now.

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