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"What Are the Rules?"

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The first time it hit me was the night my children moved into the house. "What are the rules?" they asked. Foster care homes post house rules. These rules may include bed times, chores, what is acceptable behavior, kitchen hours, etc. Now our children were in a new house, and they were searching for the new rules.

It had never occurred to me that the children would be searching for structure like this. We improvised and announced that we were ALL going to create the house rules together. The family was different with the children than it had been before, so no previous rules would apply. Paper and pen in hand, we had the children tell us what they thought a good list of rules would be. We encouraged them to describe the house the way they would want it. Rules they would believe important to follow.

Here they are:

1. Never eat anything bigger than your head.

It is actually a title of a book of cartoons by B. Kliban we had years before meeting the children. The children heard us say it once or twice, and apparently thought we were imparting wisdom rather than just trying to be funny. Interesting what sinks in and amazing to me how often that rule is referred to (mostly referring to desserts!).

2. Never say: "I can't."

O.K., I think we imposed this one. At least pushed it pretty hard. I had a diving instructor many years ago who had this rule. It always made sense to me. I was thrilled the kids liked it. It takes practice, for all of us.

3. Keep the courage.

This rule came out of my daughter's mouth. At first I wasn't sure what she meant. Then I saw the tears. I knew being here took courage. As did foster care, and every day of her life before that. Courage had served her. She didn't want to lose it and she wanted us to know it was important. We got the point.

4. Always light candles at dinner.

Civilized, aren't they? Besides from the beauty, having candles requires adults, having adults means we all eat together. Dinner conversation seems far more inclusive when this rule is followed - occasionally we forget and things do seem rushed.

5. We eat ice cream because it is good for us.

Talk about justification! It does have essential food groups represented... it is good for the soul... or at least mental well being....

6. We eat salad because we like it.

Salad happens to be our children's very favorite. People teased them a bit because they would rather have salad than cake. So it became a rule and the children had a reason to stand behind.

7. Do nice things unexpectedly.

My son figured that doing nice things that are expected makes them less nice. A bit of a surprise makes it nicer. We couldn't agree more!

8. Always help people who are hurt.

This goes for family, friends, and strangers on the street. The children saw it (and still do) as physical or emotional pain. Helping has come in the form of band-aids to clothing to having families move in to our house. Really. This rule has been expanded to dogs and other neighborhood animals as well.

9. Never leave anyone out of a game.

A good rule for all children everywhere. A great rule for all adults. Around here, that might mean changing the rules of the game, making room for extra players, having lop-sided teams, etc. That isn't as important as making sure all players are included at their own level. All that matters is you want to play.

10. Always keep your promise.

Honestly, the children seemed to have two standards for this. Parents should ALWAYS keep their promise, children's promises seem to have a little more stretching room. We're still working on this one.

11. Treat people the way you want to be treated.

The cute thing is the kids thought they made this one up. We let them go with that idea. The question is often posed: "How do you want to be treated right now? What are you showing?" That usually drives the point home.

12. Always tell somebody in the family if you are mad, sad, scared or worried about something.

This has kept a lot of arguments from ever happening. Reminding my children that THEY created the rule so they need to follow it has been wonderful. I believe it is a rule all children want to follow, they just need to know that they can and will be heard.

13. Laugh at ourselves not at others.

A good rule for all - and it helps keep us from taking ourselves too seriously. The flip side to that is it reminds us to empathize with and respect others.

14. Life's a game. Play well, play fair, have fun.

Imagine a rule that says to have fun. "We aren't having fun, we're breaking a rule." No, we don't have fun every minute, but if absence of fun goes on for long enough there are very light hearted consequences, I assure you!!

So the rules were set. In red marker on a now very yellowed sheet of paper. Still on the refrigerator and referenced to this day. It helps to know what is expected, it really helps when the children are involved in the decision making process.

I invite you to try this with your children. Feel free to use any of our rules, but you'll most likely find that your children will have things to say that will be even better for your family.
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