‘My children live by only 3 rules’
Choosing the guiding principles for your family is half the discipline battle won.
Children need a balance of love and discipline to develop as happy confident and competent beings. Many parents find loving easier than disciplining.

It helps if children can be given universal principles which they can refer to, to guide their own behaviour.

‘Do it because I say so,’ is a most uninspiring reason to do anything, more likely to breed resentment. My husband never saw himself in the role of 'prison warden' as he put it, administering rules and consequences to his sons. He remembered how throughout his youth he hated being told what do, or worse, what not to do.

So he considered what he stood for as a man, and what we valued as a family, and the 3 principles came into being: speak the truth, look after the lady and help your brother.

‘What was it like growing up with these 3 principles?’ I asked my son.

‘There was a beautiful simplicity about the “3 rules”,’ he said. ‘We felt as though we could do anything (something about this feels important, that we felt as though everything was possible) so long as the 3 principles were followed. However, cunningly (or, which is less likely, unwittingly) my father had pretty much covered every possible indiscretion with those three simple rules, so while we felt as though 3 wasn't actually very many, in fact we weren't allowed to do anything bad at all!

‘Now, if we had been told that, we might have given our parents a few more headaches than we did, in the same way as someone who is told 'not to open that drawer' opens it immediately.

‘The 3 rules also helped our parents with consistency. When we did something naughty, we were told how it linked to one of the 3 principles; there was seldom any vagueness or lack of clarity about it.’

Each family will naturally choose the principles that reflect what they hold most dear, and these need to be discussed and referred to regularly to ensure that there is understanding and 'buy in'. It happens in the workplace, where it is referred to as the 'vision', or 'mission statement'. To succeed we need to know what we are about.

There is a big difference between having rules that govern one's life and principles that may guide it. A rule is defined as 'a statement of what can, must or should be done in a certain set of circumstances', whereas a principle is defined as 'a fundamental truth used as a basis for reasoning or action'. Principles can govern the simple everyday issues, but also apply to the big questions. They are essentially positive and can grow in meaning and scope as the child matures. For example, help your brother may begin by referring mostly to your sibling, but eventually could embrace the whole of humanity.

The real beauty of a life based on principles is that they open the gates to a wider world of infinite possibilities, giving a sense of meaning and purpose, helping a growing person to find their direction in life, what really matters to them, what it is they have to contribute. Great men and women, the ones we admire, honour and remember, are great because of the principles they have followed in their lives.

What are your 3 unbreakable rules?

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

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