Family rules let everyone in your household know the expectations for behaviour. They help family members achieve a balance between getting what they want and respecting the needs of others and help children feel secure in their surroundings.
Rules help family members get along better and go a long way in building a peaceful and happy home. Effective rules are positive statements about how to treat those around you and can teach consistency in behaviour from around the age of three years.
Family rules should aim to cover a number of different family-life elements, including:
- Daily routines
Every household sets different family rules, and what works for one might not work for another. It’s important to cater your rules to your family’s own individual needs, and consult as many family members as possible when making them.
Family rules should not just be a list of ‘don’ts’, and should instead encourage positive behaviour and strategies for certain situations. Don’ts put a negative spin on family rules and will make kids resent the rules instead of respecting them. That said, it’s okay to include a few ‘don’ts’, such as:
- Don’t hurt
- Don’t open the door to strangers
- Don’t interrupt
- Don’t jump on the furniture.
When you start using your rules, you may need to address what’s most important to you, as toddlers and young children may have difficulty remembering any more than two or three rules. This will also give the whole family a chance to get used to how family rules work before others are added.
Explaining the rules
It’s important to make sure that everyone in the family knows and understands the rules, and why the rules are in place. You can check your child’s understanding by having them repeat each rule in their own words. Toddlers and young children may need deeper explaining, especially for generalised rules such as ‘no hurting’. In this case, you should explain that ‘no hurting’ means no hitting, spitting, kicking, or shouting at – all things that could hurt someone physically or emotionally.
Pictures and visuals could also help.
A family rules chart should contain two columns – one for the rules and one for the consequences. What these consequences are should be discussed as a group and clearly understood.
Consequences for broken family rules should be enforced immediately, and consistency is definitely the key here. Family rules must receive an immediate response every time for them to work.
Making sure everyone is on the same page
For family rules to work well, everyone in the home needs to know the rules, understand them, and follow them. If not everyone is on the same page, children will get mixed messages, so lead by example and follow the rules yourself and create rules that apply to every family member.
- Post the rules where everyone can see them
- Have conversations with other adults that care for your children about the rules
- Ask that all caregivers be consistent in monitoring and enforcing the rules
- Offer frequent reminders of why you have rules.
Getting kids involved
Most parents would agree that when talking to children about their behavior, they will often be ignored or challenged. When spoken about themselves, however, their words become the gospel truth. Gotta love kids, right?
When setting family rules, the more involvement your children have, the better. If you let them believe they came up with the rules themselves, you have a much higher chance of them actually following them.
One way to do this is to write on a piece of paper some prompts, and have the kids establish the rules based on their favourites. Ideas could be:
Rule: Say please, thank you, sorry, you’re welcome and excuse me when needed.
Rule: Be honest with yourself and others. Refrain from lies and exaggerating.
Prompt: Be accountable
Rule: Admit when you make a mistake, apologise, and ask how you can make it better.
Rule: Keep your bedroom tidy and pick up your toys when you’ve finished playing.
Rule: Respect people’s property and feelings. Don’t answer back.
Rule: Do what is asked of you and don’t complain.
Rule: Be thankful for your family and everything around you.
Rule: Be helpful and kind to others at all times.
When setting the consequences, have your children first discuss the positives of following the rules – such as “keeping your bedroom tidy will mean that you can find things easily and you’ll have a nice place to sleep” before creating a punishment.
If children are too young to come up with the rules and consequences themselves, write a list of your top ten favourite rules and ask them to choose the three or four rules they think are the most important. If you are using time out as a consequence, have your child pick the location of their time out (so long as it’s not the playroom). You could then paste and glue picture prompts together.
When created for the right reasons, family rules aren’t something to be feared. They offer clear expectations, immediate feedback on behaviour, and motivate family members to be the best they can be.