1. Don't Make a Mess
2. Always listen to Mommy & Daddy
3. You get what you get and you don't throw a fit
We most often refer to the first rule. For example, when eating in a restaurant and waiting for food, the kids might decide that it's fun to color on plates, play with the straws in their drinks or make confetti out of napkins. That's when we put a quick stop to it and say 'What's the First Rule?'. And they will answer 'Don't Make a Mess.'. I'm not saying it always stops the mess, but it does work quite a bit of the time. And, if we can prevent the mess, we can prevent the crying and/or wailing associated with the excruciatingly back-breaking work of cleaning up the mess they created, which by all of their accounts is the most difficult, impossible, boring job ever in the whole wide world.
We are having our fireplace area fixed, and the guys were in removing some drywall and had made a pretty decent mess. My son and I walked in and were looking at it all, and the first thing he said to me was 'Mommy, they are breaking the first rule'. I laughed, and explained that it's OK for them to make a mess and that they are going to clean it up. At least one of the kids listens to us . . .
We don't usually refer to the other two rules by number, but certainly encourage them to follow them. The 2nd rule is most important when we are out in public and need to keep everyone together and safe, but it's important at home as well when we are trying to create a little bit of order out of the generally consistent chaotic state of our house. For example, if they are chasing each other around the house or playing on the stairs and we ask them to stop, but they don't, we usually have to remind them that they need to listen to Mommy and Daddy. This is also where the dreaded 'Because I said so' comes in. We remind them of safety issues, etc. and that sometimes they just have to do what we ask without arguing. I'm not really holding my breath since I'm sure we'll turn blue over the next 15 years trying to get them to follow that one. But hey, at least we're trying.
Lastly, we stole 'you get what you get . . . ' from one of their old daycares. This usually comes in when they've gotten a treat or something and they decide to complain. Maybe I gave them popsicles and they wanted red instead of green. So, I must remind them 'You get what you get and you don't throw a fit'. I also sometimes remind them that there are children in the world who don't have food, so they better be happy for any popsicle. Yep, eventually your children will push you to use the 'starving children in Africa' line (or some variation thereof) if you haven't used it already, but every parent of small children do what they must to make it through the day without tantrums, complaining, etc.
Those are our 'rules'. We are really just trying to see if we can achieve just one day without any crying or tantrums, and it continually eludes us. For us, these three things seem to cover nearly all scenarios that cause stress, and they keep my husband and I consist when we are not together. And, we can laugh about it all, too, which may be the most important benefit of all.