By Lois Ann Ell
“Rule: an authoritative principle set forth to guide behavior or action” –Encarta Dictionary
Most rules we teach children are simple and universal, and they usually all fall into three categories: respect, manners and chores. It’s getting children to follow these rules that can be tiresome and repetitive, which is why I was intrigued when my daughters came home from playing at their neighbor’s house one day and excitedly told me about the “rules on the wall” and how you have to follow them, their eyes large and reverent.
I had to know more.
I went to my neighbor’s house and there they were: numbered rules written on a white poster board decorated by yellow and pink flowers.
It was genius: To have a document on the wall for everyone in the family to see—a contractual agreement in the home.
Instead of spouting reprimands all day long, I could simply and silently point to the wall, eyebrows raised. I imagined myself looking very regal and full of authority, like a 19th century headmistress at a far-away boarding school.
I went to Long’s and bought poster board in a convincing color, bright red. I found a big black marker and sat down at the kitchen table. I thought it only fair to allow each person in our family to pick a rule, but…I picked the first one—which I lifted from the Dalai Lama— and the last one, and strongly suggested the others. When “we” were done I taped it up on the wall in the kitchen.
The first week The Rules were up, each time I raised my voice, one of my children screamed, “Rule number 5! No yelling!”
There’s nothing more delicious to a child then getting to scold his or her parent. It soon became a family activity. We interrupted each other to point out Rule 3: No Interrupting.
Rule 6: Don’t Lie or Cheat, came up during rounds of Crazy Eights, whether warranted or not, usually by whomever was losing.
The Work Together Rule: Number 2, was often invoked by whoever had a chore to finish. And Rule 4: Pick Up After Ourselves—well, we’ve all had a field day with that one.
The Rules made us frantic and preachy and all of the sudden very concerned with each other’s conduct, but in a fun, playful way. Dinnertime became a game show on manners, the table, our buzzers, and all of us wildly competitive.
It’s been a few weeks now since The Rules have been up and admittedly the excitement has died down. The poster is still useful, albeit adorned with spaghetti sauce splatter, and it’s been re-taped a few times.
It’s an interesting conversation piece when people come over, like some bizarre art deco sculpture, sparking philosophical discussions.
More importantly, it’s a friendly reminder, and like that spoonful of sugar; words on the wall go down easier than a scolding voice.
Who knew the flimsy red board with seven rules would become a sort of touchstone, somehow relevant to everything. Mahalo, neighbor.