Annette Nay, PhD

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Set Family Rules and Teach Life Skills for a Better Life
Annette Nay, Ph.D.
Copyright 1999

Dear Annette,

This letter is in regard to our 15 year old son. Our son has become very defiant. He only wants to do what he wants and pays no attention to us.

My husband and I have decided to make up a contract between our son and ourselves listing our expectations and rewards for his meeting those expectations and consequences if he doesn't. We have invited him to join us tomorrow when we draw up this contract so he can have some impute. But he doesn't even want to talk with us. So we've said that we'll make up the contract with him or without him. His choice. We'd like him to express his expectations of us.

This is my question: Since we have never done something like this before, where could we get an idea of what a contract like this might look like and some possible rewards and consequences. I know we're going to forget half of the things we'd like to list. Thanks for all your help.


Dear Parent,

I hope this reply reaches you as soon as you wish it. If not, I hope you set down the rules and consequences of your home with the help of the Lord. I'm not saying He will give you all the answers, but He will guide you to the answers.

Being a parent is a growth experience that continues on throughout eternity in the Celestial kingdom. The Lord does not give us all the answers but guides us as we fumble our way through it which allows us to grow in wisdom and knowledge. We know why things work because we have experienced them first hand. This is the way we need to guide our children also.

Realize, too, that what we have set forth as rules can be adjusted as needed. When we work with people we must realize that any rule must have an elastic clause to allow for extenuating circumstances. Remember to make the consequences such that you can enforce them and are such that you can live with. Lengthy groundings can be more of a punishment to the parent than the youth. See my article Helping Our Children Overcome Bad Behaviors.

Particularly note what can be used for consequences and incentives and the duration a consequence should last for each age group.

Our Family Contract took us about five tries before we got this one. The first one was every rule I could think of that was important to our family. My husband took the original and boiled it down to its essence: respect for God, self, parents, others, and property. We have since refined and polished it. This means that you can do the same for yourself, as needed!

The first part of our contract states what our children can expect from us. The second part states what we expect from our children.


Family Contract

I want to live in a nice, comfortable home with a peaceful, loving atmosphere. I want to live in a place where I'll be proud to bring my friends, including dates. I want to be a part of a family of which I can be proud. To do my part to achieve these goals, I promise to my family that I will make an honest effort to live the ideals taught to me by my parents and church. For example:

Respect for God

  • I will attend church willingly, cheerfully, and on-time.
  • Each time I attend church I will find something that will make me a better person, then make that change.

Respect for Myself

  • I will not use tobacco, alcohol, caffeinated drinks, or use un-prescribed or illegal drugs.
  • I want to be respected, so I will be the kind of person that others enjoy being around.
  • I will choose only friends who will help me live the standards taught to me by my parents and church.

Respect for my Parents

  • I will always plan my activities before I leave home. If I have no plan, I shouldn't be going out anyway.
  • I will check out with my parents before going anywhere.
  • I want to be trusted, so I will go where I say I'm going and will do what I say I'm doing.
  • I will return when I say I will. If there is a good reason to return later, I will tell my parents.
  • I know my parents worry, so I will check in with them so they know I'm back.
  • Unless I have permission, I will not allow friends in the home unless at least one of my parents is home.
  • When I have friends in our home, I will have worthwhile activities planned for them.
  • I am responsible to ensure my friends also follow these family rules when they are on family property or family activities.

Respect for my Family

  • I don't want to be a burden on others. Therefore, I will clean up after myself.
  • I will cheerfully complete my daily and weekly chores without being reminded and before I participate in activities other than church or school.
  • I will have respectful, clean language at all times.
  • I will not participate in sniping, name-calling or put-downs.
  • I will not use physical violence, rough horseplay, or even threats.

Respect for Property

  • I will not waste food, electricity, or other family resources.
  • I will use the family car only with permission. I will drive safely, courteously, and will not waste fuel.
  • My honor is important to me. I will not steal, lie, or even borrow anything without permission.
  • I will not throw things.
  • I will not vandalize or intentionally destroy things.

If I follow the terms of this agreement I understand my parents will provide me a safe and comfortable home, food, clothing, and a peaceful, loving, atmosphere in which to live.

When I am unwilling to live these standards, I will find another place to live. However, I know that my parents will always continue to love me and treat me with respect. I know that I will be welcome to visit as a guest as long as I live these standards while I'm visiting. I will visit only when at least one of my parents is home and I will call ahead.


___________________________________ (signature of youth)


Obviously we all make mistakes and there has to be room for forgiveness when a child wants it. This is when lesser consequences can be constructed to fit the crime, instead of just throwing the child out. When the youth refuses to live the rules it is time for him to go!

Unfortunately, there has been more than once that I have had to state to my 15 year old son that he can either follow the rules or choose the door. I always tell him that I love him and prefer him to stay, but only if he can work within the family rules. So far, he has chosen to follow the rules instead of the door.

When you make this statement of rules, your child has to know that you mean it. He must also know also that he can come back when he is ready to give the rules another try.

Since the law expect parents to care for minor children, it becomes a task to know what to do with them when they refuse to follow the rules. Some parents have arranged in advance a situation in which the child will not usually enjoy like living with an uncle on a farm where there will be a lot of labor to keep the youth busy, so they will be grateful to come home and abide by the rules.

Other parents have worked out in advance to exchange children if the need arises. Their youth is expected to mentor the youth visitor to help him/her understand and keep the family rules in that home.

Still, other parents allow the youth to find their own shelter by staying with friends until they wear out their welcome with all their friends and come back home. They maintain friendly lines of communication with the youth during the interim.

The Utah Boy's Ranch has an excellent program using prayer, scripture study, academic tutoring, and self-esteem building with strict adherence to house rules to reform unmanageable youths. There success rate has been tremendous and recidivism very low.

Finally, some parents help their youths to be come emancipated adults through the petitioning the court for emancipation status. That means that even though the youth is not of the age of majority, s/he can be treated as an adult if s/he has proof that s/he can live on his/her own by gaining and maintaining a job which pays for food, clothing, rent, and at least public transportation.

I was reading a study done in one of my psychological magazines on the basic skills that are needed for a youth to succeed in this life. I wanted to include them because I feel that the study is very valid. It spell out what these basic skills are and then states that whenever there is a success in any of these areas in which the youth is lacking that there is an increase of self-esteem which leads to the youth to be able to use this past success to conquer other problem areas. (Reference: Taffel, Ron. Discovering Our Children. Networker, September/October '99.)

I have five boys and one girl in my family. As I analyzed the basic skills that the article listed I realized that the trouble we had had with each particular child stemmed from a lack of good development in one or more of these areas.

When a youth has trouble in any aspect of his/her life there is a self-devaluation. This causes him/her to feel s/he cannot succeed in other areas and is not happy with himself/herself. When the youth is not happy with himself/herself then s/he take on an ornery and/or mean disposition which usually causes him/her problems at home, in school, and in the world, which generally carries on into adulthood. It is important therefore, to help the youth to grow in the area of his/her lack so s/he does not develop further life altering negative attributes and problems. Positive change in area of the skills listed below can cause success in other areas of one's life even as an adult.

The following are the areas that our youth or we need personal skills in:

  1. Mastering Moods - Our youth learn how to master anger, anxiety, fear by watching us.
    • If you are not dealing appropriately with your moods, learn how to do so through counseling from good self-help books, personal counseling, or from articles on the net (see: ).
    • The youth may have seen you modeling appropriate mood mastery, but has not picked up on the fine points of doing so or was not interested in changing. Talk to the youth about how to deal with moods. Often anger takes many forms such as frustration, being afraid or hurt. Understanding feelings is the first step in knowing how to handle them. Remember a behavior continues because it gets the individual what s/he wants.
    • You cannot change another person, but you can change the way you interact with your youth. When you change, the youth is forced to change his/her behavior in some way, because things are not the same.
  2. Respect - The youth should be certain how you expect him to act. These expectations/rules and reasonable consequences for not acting appropriately should be posted where the youth can see them, daily. They could be posted on a family bulletin board or refrigerator.
  3. Expressiveness - Each youth is different.
    • The way you deal with the youth has to match his/her communication style (ex: loud and expressive or soft and reserved), his/her likes and dislikes, the time of day s/he is most amiable, and degree of directness the youth can tolerate.
    • Youths put a lot of stock in the written word. They communicate with each other with notes and letters. They feel important when they receive written correspondence. If you want the attention of a youth...or want the time to measure each word without pressure or shouting, write the youth! (The pen is mightier than the sword.) Then discuss the subject.
  4. Passion - Help the youth to find something they are interested in.
    • Help him/her develop a passion for learning in any positive area of possible interest. This can be in sports, reading, hobbies, outdoor activities, science projects, animal husbandry, and etc. Help the youth to develop a love for learning for his/her passion. Positive passion for learning in one area tends to pass success on to other areas of the youth's life.
    • Many of our youth have no spark or passion for anything in their lives. This attitude splashes over into their emotional world in how they relate to others. Many do not care when others are hurt through damage of property, nor do they feel any emotion when they purposefully mutilate or killing animals or people. Many cut on themselves to feel anything.
  5. Peer Smarts - Teach the youth to know what a friend is and to trust his/her own feelings.
    • If it doesn't seem right it probably isn't. Many adults nor our youth realize the promptings of the spirit. Often the Holy Ghost will repeat His message over and over again until a decision is made. Many feelings or thoughts of things being dangerous or feelings to run or get away are messages from the Holy Ghost! Listen, make a decision and then quickly ask if the decision is correct, then act appropriately! Teach your youth to do the same.
    • The Lord tells us you will know others by their actions. You can guide your youth to good friends by asking them how their friends make them feel. Do they lift them up or put them down? Do they help they make good choices or bad? Help them to know that they deserve to have good friends that will help them make good choices and treat them appropriately and not degrade them under the pretext of just joking.
    • Encourage them to discuss relational problems with you.
    • For Family Home Evening have a role playing night where you take turns acting out different scenarios that may cause troubles. Some of these might be what to do when: you are asked to steal, use drugs/alcohol or smoke, help another cheat, destroy property, or hurt someone else physically or emotionally/verbally. When a youth has made a decision as to what to do when s/he is not under pressure, the decision has already been made. S/He already has a plan of action now all he has to do is do it! This is the easy part! Having to make decisions under pressure usually leads to bad decisions.
  6. Focus - Teach the youth to focus on and stick to the task at hand.
    • To do this choose activities for the youth to participate in that are of different duration and complexity. Start out short and simple and build on the youth's successes.
    • Remember to give honest praise, often! Praise should delineate the success and should not be general. Bad Ex: You did good! Good Ex: I like the way you kept at that math problem. It wasn't easy, but you stuck with it until it was done! I'm proud of you!
  7. Body Acceptance - Help the youth like himself/herself and not obsess on outward appearances.
    • Help the youth improve self appearance by making sure the youth has good hygiene and clean, unwrinkled, moderately normal clothing that fits him/her.
    • If the youth is overweight then help him/her to accomplish weight loss.
    • If the youth wants to develop muscle help him/her achieve this.
    • If the youth needs a makeover to feel good about himself/herself then help him/her do so. This could include changing glasses to contacts, straightening crooked teeth, removal of a detracting birthmark or birth defect, breast reduction, etc.
    • It is important for the youth to like himself/herself before s/he can feel confident enough to reach out to others confidently. Also, studies show that people seek out others that match their own body types. Unconsciously, they eliminate others that do not look like them, in fact they do not even see them. Therefore, those who do not fit the body type of individuals they wish to befriend, they most likely will not succeed. It is also true that misfits tend to be forced to be loners or join with other misfits to have any friends.
  8. Cautious - It is not unmanly or wimpy to seek out information before attempting something new.
    • Help your youth to know how find information about things they want to know and be there for them when they want to talk.
    • Remember to listen to all they have to say before putting in your two cents. Stop what you are doing and look them straight in the eyes so they know you are listening. They will cue you when they want you to talk.
    • If you have points you need to talk to them about either make a mental note or jot down a word to help you remember what you needed to talk to them about. Do not put down their ideas. Instead ask intelligent questions that would lead them to questions the validity of their ideas or expand upon them. Ex: This is interesting. Have you considered this or that? How does ___ effect this?
  9. Group Mentality - People act differently in groups than when they act individually.
    • People do things in mobs that they would never do alone. Teach your youth to remember who s/he is and that there is not absolution for going along with the group when they make joint, bad decisions. Teach them to know and remember their values.
    • Also teach the youth how to act when working in a group. There has to be some give and take when working as a group like on school project. Teach him to know his/her resources and use them whether the resource is people, repositories of knowledge, or God.
  10. Gratitude - Help your youth to know when to show appreciation to others and how. Example: Honest verbal or written appreciation. Also teach the youth to remember to give gratitude to the source of all blessings great or small, the Lord. Nurture spirituality through family prayer, scripture reading, and Family Home Evening.


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