3-5 Rules: for Your Kids

We’re often in the role of providing guidance to those who provide direction to others: executives, managers, community leaders, parents, and coaches. We regularly find that they have many varied expectations and “rules” for performance.

We also find that the people they’re directing/parenting/coaching are guessing about whether they know the rules of the day.

In over twenty years of coaching and consulting, we’ve found that people are most successful when they have 3–5 key expectations or “rules” that can guide their behavior, their choices, and their thinking as they face the myriad of decisions they have to make in any day or week.

This week, we’re going to talk about how you can use this concept of 3–5 rules with your kids. The following week we’ll explore how to use this concept with your work team.

First, here’s a bit of background: Linda started using this concept years ago when she was in graduate school. She was influenced by the work of a family therapist, Cloé Madanes, who wrote an article on parenting that Linda found life changing.

The article explored the fact that children deal with many rules from their parents and that those rules often change, making it extremely difficult for kids to know what’s really important.

It is confusing, and sometimes frustrating, for kids to take on new and growing ownership of their lives—add to this unclear rules and they can get overwhelmed.

Think about it—at 3 a child is figuring out whether it’s ok to eat sweets all the time, and at 7 they’re figuring out if they can stay up late, and at 13 they’re figuring out how they want to dress and present themselves to the world.

Every day for a kid is a growth point,
and the more they know
what to expect from their parents,
the more successfully they can find their way.

Madanes suggested that parents need to land on 3–5 rules so that kids know what is expected of them, parents know what to look for to determine success, and kids learn to negotiate with their parents within their rules.

So, when Linda became a parent, she came up with 3 rules for her children: you can’t hurt yourself, you can’t hurt others, and you can’t hurt property.

The “you can’t hurt yourself” rule of Linda’s meant something quite different when her kids were little compared to when they had their driver’s licenses. Yet, the rule itself was the same.

This clarity empowered her kids, and as they got older they learned to negotiate with her for permission to do an activity on the basis that their choice “didn’t hurt them, others, or property.”

Some families have rules about participating in family events, expectations about grades, or any of range of other priorities; but the goal with these rules is to limit them to 3–5 and have them last throughout childhood and young adulthood.

In addition to coming up with 3-5 rules, it’s helpful to communicate them to your kids openly, clearly, and often.

  1. First, identify your 3-5 rules and be clear with yourself on what they will and won’t look like so that you can give a good description to your kids.
  2. If your kids are little, you’ll make the decisions. If they’re older, sit down with them and let them know what the rules are and WHY you’re naming them. You may also ask them if they would add anything. If you know us, you know that we define leadership as a willingness to influence your world and be influenced by your world.
    This process can teach your kids to influence you and to see how they are influenced by you. Kids (like adults) are more likely to get behind what they’ve helped create!
  3. Give feedback often! Whether they’ve followed the rules and you’re giving them kudos (this is an important one—don’t just give them feedback when they’ve done something wrong), or when they’ve broken the rules and you need to review them again. It’s important to continue regular discussions about your rules.

Sharing your 3-5 rules with your kids will empower them. They will know what you value and what you’ll hold them accountable to. They can then ask that you give them room to navigate within the boundaries of those 3-5 rules.

If you’re a parent, this week think about the 3–5 rules you value so that your kids know what’s expected of them, you know what to look for to determine success, and your kids learn to negotiate with you within those rules.

Let us know what you come up with!

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