The idea of agreements has been around for a long time. Don Miguel Ruiz made it widely available with this book, The Four Agreements, in which he outlines four paths to personal freedom:
- Be impeccable with your word.
- Don’t take anything personally.
- Don’t make assumptions.
- Always do your best.
Even earlier, though not described as agreements, there was Robert Fulghum’s All I Really I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, with my favorite, “When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.”
Families and schools put agreements in place to remind us of how we want to interact with each other and with the world, to reduce the difficulties in getting along with each other, and to train younger members of the family about what we value.
Agreements are not rules for which there are consequences. Agreements provide guidance. They can be specific or very broad. They do not lead to punishment—they lead to conversations for clarity and understanding.
Here are some favorites I’ve encountered over the years that relate to children.
From Pinebrook Elementary School:
- Show respect of others through your words and actions.
- Do your best so others can do their best.
- Keep all arms, legs, and objects to yourself.
- Accept responsibility for your actions.
This was found by a friend in a large playroom that was gathering place for neighborhood children over the summer:
- Keep toys together.
- Pick up toys when you are done.
- Be nice.
- Shair the toys.
- Work together.
- Listen to the big kids.
- Don’t lie.
- Use kind words.
One of the schools my children went to had two agreements for the students:
- Be nice.
- Do the right thing.
When you think about it, that covers a lot of territory. Of course, kids will be kids, so this didn’t mean perfect harmony at all times. But because these agreements were in place, the kids generally knew when they were not acting properly.
Agreements can have built-in exceptions. A friend, Roger, had two boys, Spencer and Trevor, and a small car. So, they had an agreement to avoid the daily struggle over whose turn it was to ride in the front seat. Odd days, Spencer gets front seat. Even days, Trevor. Except on soccer days, then the person who had the most mud got the back seat! The point is that agreements are intended to address patterns. Think of them as guardrails that have flexibility and can tolerate exceptions.
What agreements might be useful to you and your kids? You want as few as possible, and only the ones that you will discuss when they are not followed.
One option is to identify what each of Ruiz’s agreements would mean within the family. Another option is have a family discussion about agreements and invent your list together.
And how might you keep these agreements visible where they can remind everyone in the family? Post them on the refrigerator? Discuss at dinner? Buy everyone a bracelet that serves as a reminder of the list?
Keeping agreements visible and reflecting on them periodically as a family helps clarify the family’s expectations for what’s acceptable. And perhaps more valuably, it provides the framework within which to have some wonderful conversations.