House rules

What Do You Get When You Ask the Kids to Make Up the Rules?


The queen of the naughty mat, the naughty corner, and the naughty chair.

As a parent, there is one source I go to when I need help.

That’s right, you guessed it.


It’s for a number of reasons, really. First, I can’t get enough of her accent. Second, I love the variations of the punishment spot each episode: the naughty corner, the naughty chair, the naughty mat, the naughty stool … you get the idea. I think one time there was a naughty pillow. Yes, I giggled.

Due to my love for Jo Frost, you won’t be surprised when my inspiration for our own “House Rules” came from Supernanny herself. Jo (Though is it actually producers that come up with this stuff? Is Jo really a child rearing expert? I should look that up …) suggests sitting down together as a family to come up with rules so that everyone feels a part of it.

Fantastic in theory.

When we sat down to actually do this, however, the process took on a life of its own.

Allow me to set the stage.

The Scene of the Rules

We are about to start our bedtime routine when I tell my kids “we all have to have a talk.” I’m saying this to my kids, but it is also the first time my husband is aware that “we all have to have a talk.” I avoid his gaze.

My daughter, 5, immediately thinks she is in trouble. My son, 3 1/2, is making some sort of vehicular noise and isn’t paying attention. My husband, 42, is staring off into space and also isn’t paying attention.

“Don’t worry,” I say to my daughter. “Just sit down.”

I have retrieved a marker and piece of construction paper. The marker has caught my son’s attention. He would now like to color. My daughter is growing increasingly paranoid.

“Is this because I had bad behavior yesterday?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say.

Well, it was.

The Speech Before the Rules

As parents, we all envision these grandiose speeches we will give to our children. In our minds, we envision them actually paying attention.

In reality, these speeches go something like this:

Me: “We are going to put together some house rules … Jack, look at me … because we need to understand what is expected … put that down. Does that make sense?”

Abby: “Mommy, can I write?”

Me: “Did you hear what I said?”

Abby: “Can I write it?”

Me: “Don’t worry about it, did you understand what I said?”

Abby in a painfully, whiny tone: “I want to write it!”

Me in a painfully, teenager-y tone: “Fine, whatever!”

I hand her the marker and paper.

The Drawing Up of the Rules

After I let Abby write “House Rules” at the top of the paper (which reminded me of “House Elves,” but I digress), I reclaim the writing utensil and we got to work.

No sooner had I opened the floor for suggestions had Jack punched himself in the forehead and proudly exclaimed, “Don’t do that … ow!”

You had to appreciate his enthusiasm.

In an effort to make his personal sacrifice useful, I confirmed, “No harming others,” and wrote it down.

Abby then began a long, drawn-out monologue that included the importance of not touching the TV, because, after all, the TV could fall and break or, worse, accrue even more fingerprints than it already has.

In the midst of her speech, Jack interrupted, to which Abby screamed as though someone had just hit her over the head with a hard, metal object.

“Hey!” she screamed at a shrill, ear-piercing tone. “Noooooo, Jack!”

“No whining,” I confirmed, and wrote it down. “Isn’t that an important one?”

Jack had already moved on. He was so excited to come up with additional rules, he began stuttering in an attempt to get the words out faster. He then ran over to the couch and hit it a few times before declaring, “No hitting the couch, right Daddy?”

Abby, enjoying the couch theme, took the opportunity to jump up and sit on the back of the couch in order to demonstrate what we should not do, because simply saying we shouldn’t sit on the back of the couch wouldn’t have sufficed.


The Actual Rules

This is what we came up with. The process took way too long and, if it were up to the kids, our final draft would have been 10 pages. Ah, the irony.

  1. House rules

    Our (very formal) house rules document.

    No harming others. The first rule and a necessary one. Especially since Jack harmed himself during the inception of this rule.

  2. No whining. This is the most important rule. It is also futile considering Abby speaks whine-glish – English with an emphasis on long, drawn-out words, often accompanied by falling on the floor.
  3. No taking toys. I enjoy exercising this rule for myself when it doesn’t occur to my kids that they aren’t the only ones who own things. Yes, my phone is my toy. No, you can’t take it.
  4. No spitting. I’m not sure which child came up with this one, but it’s not a problem we have. I wrote it down to keep from discouraging the kids. I’m sure Supernanny would be proud of my effort to keep the entire family involved.
  5. No tackling. This is really a Jack problem.
  6. No screaming. See Rule No. 2’s explanation.
  7. Do what Mommy and Daddy say. An all-encompassing rule that created more of a grammar issue than anything. I wrote it out as though it were an all-inclusive process. Do what we say not do what each of us says. I should probably add an ’s’ to ‘say,’ but I just don’t have it in me. Technically it’s correct.
  8. No breaking things. Fingers crossed.
  9. Be kind to one another. It’s worth a shot.
  10. No tattling. Come to think of it, we haven’t had a lot of tattling since these rules were drawn up. Jo Frost is a genius.
  11. No interrupting. Go ahead and laugh.
  12. Put away your toys. This may be the most attainable rule on our list, sadly.

We were proud of our 12 rules, especially since it took us about 40 minutes to come up with them. The session finally concluded with my husband declaring, “Okay, we can add more later!” as the kids were grasping at straws.

“But, but, but, but what about … no taking dinosaurs!”

“What about … no pinching!”

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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