Whether intentional or not, every family develops a family culture. The trick is to do it on purpose rather than just letting it happen.

Many years ago as part of an effort to do just that, we adapted the family laws that Richard and Linda Eyre mentioned in Three Steps to a Strong Family.

I think it is so important to have the laws of your family written and clearly stated so the children know what you expect of them, yet listing every single rule for every circumstance becomes onorous both to list and to remember.

If you haven’t already done so, you might sit down with your husband or wife and come up with a small number of laws that include the expectations you have for your children. For us, the laws are permanent, and every temporary rule (such as bedtime or a curfew) is included in some way, yet they are small enough in number to be easily remembered by everyone in the family. The laws are charity, obedience, order, peace, and honesty.

Charity means living by the golden rule. It includes the two greatest laws: Love God, Love neighbor, and yes neighbor actually does include your little brother. In our society, we have terribly misconstrued what love is. God doesn’t command our feelings, so love can’t be a feeling, right? To love someone is to will his good–to want what is best for him. That’s my definition. What’s yours? Feel free to post it below.

Where obedience is concerned, I expect my children to obey God’s laws, us, and others whom we place in authority over them but with a caveat. They are never expected to obey if someone asks them to do something they know is wrong. A well-formed conscience is very important here.

The next law is order. Order involves two things, really. It involves being orderly or neat, and it involves doing things in the proper order. That means doing chores (more about chores in another post) and also fulfilling obligations before playing most of the time. For example, one of my children takes violin lessons, so I expect her to practice violin before she plays.

After order, the next family law is peace. Exhibiting the virtue of peace means not losing your temper when your brother hits you or says something unkind. It also includes speaking without whining or yelling.

The final family law is honesty. Of course, I expect my children to be honest, but there are times that honesty is hard.

For the most part, the consequence when the children are young is time-out. As they get older and become more rational, I really do find that talking to them about it is better than almost any consequence, but sometimes a short time spent in their room is necessary before they’re able to really listen.

While we’re on the subject of consequences, I’ve found over time that it is more effective to have a smaller punishment that gives the child an opportunity to redeem himself rather than a more severe punishment that does not. For example, I have one child who had a real problem with hitting when he was very young. When he was 2, he was also a biter, much to my chagrin. I used to put him in his room for an hour when he hit or bit, but that left him with little opportunity to practice interacting properly. I found that putting him in time out for twice the normal length (twice his age in minutes) was just as effective. He felt the weight of his actions, but without being made to feel entirely rejected.

I have also found that he behaves much better when he feels good about himself. This can mean helping a child find what he is good at doing, or helping him to recognize positive character traits. I would be the last person to jump on the self-esteem wagon without seeing what a difference that has made for this child.

It’s important, I think, to differentiate between flattery, which builds a self-identity that has nothing to do with reality, and giving compliments when they are truly deserved. In the former instance, the child is likely to suffer greatly when his siblings or friends quite honestly show him, or he discovers on his own, that he is not particularly capable at something, contrary to what dear old mom and dad said. It also strikes a blow where respect for mom and dad’s opinion is concerned.

The opposite is true when a child’s true sense of self is built up in a healthy way by recognition of a job well-done or, better still, by recognition of a virtue or even the beginning of a virtue.

While we’re defining big concepts, let’s go for a definition of humility. Humility is nothing more or less than an accurate view of oneself. I think it was Mother Teresa who said that humility is not thinking little of oneself; it’s thinking of oneself little.