Teach the Principle Behind the Rules – ETB #88

Do you have kids who say things like this: “Mom, you just don’t understand. You’re always on my back. You constantly criticize and tell me what I do wrong.” I want you to know that there is a way to build a relationship with your kids while enforcing the rules of your household. The key is to teach the principle behind the rules.

Teach the Principle Behind the Rules - ETB #88

Your kids may think that you’re not accepting them the way they have been created when you require them to do something like clean their rooms. So, what do you do with the kid who says he’s not wired to be neat? They don’t always understand at first that we are trying to teach them to live a life that has order, rhythm, and routine. I’m not saying that we should be striving for perfection or pushing our kids to perfection. If you could see my office / studio, you’d see my piles and stacks you’d know that’s not my point. But I know what is in those stacks and where to find what I need. There is still an order to life. There’s a principle behind the rules.

Teach the Principles

We need to teach our kids the principles behind the rules that we have put in place in our homes. This is so important, maybe even more so today, because many times kids don’t have a say over what they are facing. They have no control in their lives and it’s exhausting for them. But, you can use principles innovatively to reach the end goals.

I know. You’re exhausted too. All of the teaching and training on top of our current world chaos. You’re being told to be more hands off by society. They say to just let your kids do whatever they are going to do. I know you’re working and trying to manage your home, but I implore you to not just leave them be. Don’t leave these important tasks of raising your kids to the government or the publish schools. Find the balance for each of your children in how much to say, when to say it, and maybe even more importantly how you say it.

A word of caution: Your kids won’t always appreciate what you are doing for them right now. Parenting is often a thankless job. Your kids are not likely to come back even years from now with eloquent words to express their gratitude for how you raised them. But, trust me that as they grow older they will start to recognize and appreciate what you’ve done for them.

Tips for Enforcing Rules

There are some simple things you can incorporate into enforcing the rules of your home:

  • Stop making things a battle.
  • Don’t make it about control.
  • Look for the principle behind the rules.

Offer to Help

When my kids were instructed to do a task like their laundry, I would often offer to help. Offering to help can sometimes be misconstrued as criticism. Look for ways to ask for help too. Make a deal or trade with your child. I’d often offer to help for their laundry and in exchange see if they’d help me with dinner. Flip the criticism of their work into getting the job done while protecting the relationship. You’ll find that the cooperation level increases. (By the way, this applies to business and marriage in addition to parenting teens and adult children too!)

How You Say Things

Think about how you’d like to be spoken to. Would you like to be criticized with harsh words at every turn? Focus instead on the principle behind the rule or goal you’re trying to achieve. These goals might be:

  • Learning how to build a team who does things together
  • Preparing for the day when the child leaves home
  • Living together in peace and harmony

When you focus on the principle, it lessens the blow of criticism. Look through the lens of others; seek to understand their perspective. Don’t let things turn into a battle of the wills!

There aren’t 3 easy steps to carrying this out in real life, but here are some helpful strategies to keep in mind:

  • Know the child you’re talking to.
  • How does this child they receive your words?
  • Be clear on what it is you’re trying to help them learn.

Remember: the principle is the underlying why. Why do we keep our room clean? Because we need to be mindful of others who live in our home. For the rest of their lives, we want our children to consider others above themselves. There should be a healthy level of guilt when you don’t treat someone else right. To be clear, this is not the same at making a child feel guilty if they do something by accident.

Be Quick to Apologize

If you’ve done something wrong, admit it. Ask your child for forgiveness. Apologizing doesn’t allow your chid to walk all over you, but rather it actually makes them respect you more.


You can’t just say something one time. You will have to repeat yourself – likely many times. Repetition is how we all learn.

Foster Family Identity

We do it like this. Always bring the rules back to the why. I’d tell my kids: We are the Albers and this is the way we do it. But there was more to it than that. It was about identity and being a part of a family.

I used to think that parenting teenagers was the hardest season, but now I can say that parenting adult children is on a whole different level. They do things you don’t like and there is little you can do about it. You have to pray and watch them walk through things. And then you have to pray again. Adhering to a set of rules isn’t really the goal. The goal is maturity, deeper relationships, and living in harmony as a family unit.

Strive for Clarity

Make sure that your kids are understanding you. Follow your instructions with phrases like this:

  • Does that make sense?
  • Is that clear?
  • Would you consider what I’m saying?

These are the things that invite your children into a deeper relationship. It strengthens the bond between you and them in a world that is trying to pull you apart. Take time to explain the why. Explain that when you don’t wash the dishes in the evening, it makes more work in the morning before we can start breakfast.

Learning from Mistakes

My mom helped me see the principle behind the rules in practice when I was a teen. I had started a business and along the way I was too trusting of someone. I lost some money because of it. My mom didn’t belittle or shame me. She didn’t try to rescue me either. She said that she was sure that would never happen to me again. And it never did. She gave me the opportunity to lose a little money but learn a much larger lesson.

The Long Game

There is an end time coming when your children will no longer be living with you. We want them to remember the why. We want them to remember:

  • This is why we do this….
  • We do this because…
  • Because this is our family, we…
  • This is how we treat others…

We want our kids to see the impact that they have on others. Your goal needs to be building relationships. When you develop and cultivate relationships with your kids, you are less likely to see push back from them. And you might even find that your messier kids become a little neater when they are responsible for their own homes and navigating life with a roommate or spouse because they understand the why.

Keep focusing on the principles – the whys – behind the rules.

References and Links

The following may contain affiliate links.

Subscribe to Equipped To Be

If you find this podcast helpful, please subscribe and leave a review. It’s a great way to support the show and only takes a few seconds.

Have a Question or Request to Speak for Connie?

Want to contact Connie with a question? Want Connie to speak at your event? Contact Connie here.

Teach the Principle Behind the Rules - ETB #88