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Why “House Rules” Are Great for Kids—and Also Parents


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Kathleen M. Berchelmann, MD - published on 08/25/15

It's all about setting clear expectations and naming behaviors

Our favorite family dinner is my husband’s homemade pizza—thin crust, topped with mozzarella and parmesan. But whenever that pizza hit the table, the fighting and jealousy would start. Eight little hands would scramble to get the biggest pieces and fill their plates before I had even sat down. One night, frustrated, I exclaimed, “Why are you all so jealous?”

They looked at me, stunned, like I was speaking a foreign language. Finally, a little voice came from the end of the table:

“What’s jealous?”

Good discipline starts with setting clear expectations and naming behaviors. Apparently, I had never discussed jealousy.

We clearly needed to define some house rules. We’re the Berchelmann’s, so we wrote: “The Berchelmann 10 Commandments.” Here they are:

1. Attitude is a choice.

2. Obey Mommy and Daddy the first time. Say “Yes, Mommy” or “Yes, Daddy.”

3. Pick up your stuff and put it away in the right place.

4. Use loving voices. We love you too much to argue.

5. Don’t interrupt.

6. Be grateful, not jealous.

7. No physical violence.

8. Be a servant, not a taker.

9. Apologize if you hurt someone.

10. Respect other people’s things.

These house rules have been in place in our house for about two years now, and we talk about them daily every morning. Sometimes we ask the kids to recite them, but usually we just ask them to name one that they’re going to work on today. Then we talk about them again at bedtime prayers, asking God for the grace to keep trying. Mostly, the rules give me something to say when I see a kid clearly breaking one. It’s an opportunity for me to have a calm response rather than an angry voice. Now I yell at my kids less; I just recite the rule, like a refrain you can’t get out of your head. Then I give consequences, when necessary, but we don’t spank our kids.

It’s all part of our goal of “Attunement Parenting,” a no-yell, no-spank parenting method that recognizes a child’s needs without ignoring a parent’s needs.

Our children still grab at the pizza, but now I just have to say, “Be grateful, not jealous,” and they sigh and put back some of the pieces.

What are your house rules? Is there something we should add to this list?

Kathleen M. Berchelmann, MDis an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and a mother of five young children. Connect with Dr. Berchelmann at

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