Looking to implement guidelines for your home and not sure where to start? Every family should have at least basic rules to abide by. Household rules let everyone know what their behavior expectations are. Generally, rules include issues of safety, respect, healthy boundaries, and limits. When rules are fair, consistent, and balanced, they allow children and teens to have more freedom. Because they know where the end zone is, kids get the weight lifted off their shoulders from feeling as though they need to be solely responsible for limits or consequences that they are simply too young to comprehend.
Family rules are most effective when they are clear and direct. There are various types of rules that can apply to different situations. Basic rules apply to safety, manners, and routines. For instance, most families have rules avoiding violence. But unless limits are specific, they can sometimes overwhelm kids, depending on age. “No Hitting,” is an example of an important basic safety rule. “Remember ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’” or “Don’t chew with your mouth open,” are common basic rules for manners.
Kids need rules to be concrete. When parents say, “be respectful”, younger children, especially, cannot understand how to apply that because they do not know what behavior is or is not respectful. Instead, the rule should include an example of disrespectful behavior, such as “No name calling, whining, eye-rolling.” On the flip side of that, you can include “DO” rules that encompass behavior you find respectful, such as, “We say, ‘May I please,’ instead of ‘I want’ or ‘gimme’”.
Some rules will be ground rules that apply everywhere, while others will only apply in cars (“We buckle up with seatbelts in the car!”), or at specific places (“At Grandma’s house, we always take off our shoes at the door.”).
Decide ahead of time who will be involved in making the rules. If your children are old enough to help you fairly determine some ground rules, include them. This helps them gain confidence in abiding by them and helps them play a role in the consequences of breaking them.
Family rules not only help children understand what is expected of them, but they also keep adults accountable for consistency in their behavior and reactions. When the rules are laid out, everyone can get to enjoying life. It reduces the unpredictable element that can stress both parent and child. Remember that, as much as possible, with every negative “don’t” rule, you will want to guide your child into the positive “do” action. This helps them and you avoid feeling as though all you say is ‘no’ without rhyme or reason, which can also lead to rebellion. Explain yourself when applicable, but also understand that authority does not always have to give a reason, especially when older children may use it as a manipulation tool to debate rules that are not open for debate. Giving your children the answer to what good choices are over bad ones is the best option. This will stand as the best guidance for directing them and helping them learn to make good choices in the future. It also trains them to take proper responsibility for themselves.
Five Examples of Do and Don’t Rules
In Our House We Do:
Pick-up areas we have messed
Say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’
Keep our promises
Help others in need
In Our House We Don’t:
Hit or hurt people
Throw fits when we don’t get our way
Lie, cheat or steal
Leave the table without being excused
Play with guns, even unloaded ones
As children grow, rules will change based on their independence. Teens may have specific rules for everything from computer usage (“No internet in their rooms, only in open family places for monitoring activity”), to curfew and peer behavior (“Never drive with someone who has been drinking alcohol, no exceptions”).
Household rules will vary by family, based on beliefs, circumstances, and maturity levels of children. Along with family rules, it is imperative that consequences for breaking them are laid out clearly and understood by all. Then stick to them. When your family operates as a team, playing by the same rule book, relationships and daily living will flourish.