A Family Code of Ethics: Why It’s a Good Idea

A Family Code of Ethics: Why It’s a Good Idea

Corporations have them. Professional organizations have them. Sports teams have them. A code of ethics is a list of standards and expectations for the daily behavior and morals of a group of people working together.

Like any team, a family needs a set of standards for what is acceptable and what is not. I’m not talking about rules, but more about a set of guiding principles that everyone–parents included–sticks to. Your own ethics have probably grown out of a set of standards you have internalized throughout your life.

Having a family code of ethics, written and agreed upon by the family working as a team, helps our children make sense of the why of things. It gives them a filter by which they can judge their decisions and interpret the moral rightness of them.

How to write a family code of ethics

What topics should you include? Here are some general ideas to get you started. You know what your values are and what you want your children to learn:

  • Respect (for ourselves and others)
  • Stewardship (taking care of resources, maintaining possessions, etc.)
  • Trustworthiness
  • Responsibility
  • Perseverance
  • Kindness
  • Service to others
  • Fair play
  • Teamwork

First, have a family meeting, during which you talk about the definition of a code of ethics, and begin to brainstorm some ideas of what it should include. Write down every idea, without editing them. All ideas are welcome.

Give everybody time, a few days to a week, to mull over the list from the brainstorming session.

Get back together to narrow down the list. You may have to combine items, remove some, or make some suggestions more general.

Finalize the list. Stick to fewer than 10 items. Try to state each principle in one sentence, if possible [ Ex.–We have respect for ourselves and other people.]

Post the list in a prominent place, like the refrigerator door, where everyone can see it.

Refer to the list when conflicts or questions come up. Talk about how an issue or decision fits the family’s code of ethics. Talking about it can lead to better decision-making skills.


Remember that it’s a standard of behavior for everyone, not a rule book to hold over each other’s heads. The rules for proper behavior in your family should–and probably will–grow out of this code. The bigger picture is that it will help grow in your family an understanding of the importance of being true to what they know is right.

As it says in Micah 6:8

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Grace is real–