Family forms the basic unit of society. Families come in all types and sizes, but no matter their format, they have to answer some very basic questions. What household rules will you enforce? How can you provide the best environment for your children to reach their highest potential as they grow? Parents must establish their family rules early, and then revisit and revise as the children grow. Below we offer some ideas for establishing family rules at each stage of your child’s development.
General Advice for House Rules
Imagine living in an anything goes, no rules home. It sounds good for a little bit, doesn’t it? But over a very short period of time, it would grow old. House rules provide important structure for young children and teens. When a family operates within the structure provided by established rules, children are secure in the knowledge of what behavior is allowed and what is not. Structure is very important for raising emotionally stable children.
When looking to establish rules for your home, consider the following:
- Prioritize. Create a limited number of rules that encompass the most important behaviors and structures that you want to establish.
- Rules should be all encompassing such as “Clean up after yourself” rather than separate rules for each instance. Procedures can explain how to carry out the broad rule. For example, how do we clean up after breakfast? How do we put away laundry? Established procedures give life to the broader rule.
- Rules should support the behaviors you want to encourage in your children such as respect, cleanliness, and appropriate behaviors.
- Rules should be enforceable. Creating a rule that is unenforceable is a recipe for disaster. Concentrate on rules that can be enforced and create the atmosphere you want to foster in your home.
- Be consistent. Once you have established your house rules, stick to your guns with enforcement. Children often resist new rules at first, seeing them as restrictions. By consistently enforcing the rules, you send a consistent message to your children that the rules are to be followed.
- Be flexible. Sometimes, you may find that a particular rule is not working well for your family. If this is the case, revising the rule slightly may make it work better in your home. Be careful though, too many revisions of the rules you have established will send the message that everything is negotiable and your rules are not that important.
When considering appropriate rules for your youngest children, focus first on important safety rules for kids rather than overloading them with too many rules.
The Mayo Clinic suggests prioritizing your family rules for your youngest children from the most important to ensure safety first and then adding additional rules over time. You want to provide a safe structure for your child to grow, but not frustrate with expectations too early on.
The Mayo Clinic also suggests using positive reinforcement and showing your child love and acceptance to form the behavior you desire most in your child.
Most of all, know your child’s limits. You can avoid many problems by simply keeping a daily routine. Much misbehavior in preschool children is caused by being their being tired or hungry. A consistent routine is key to managing your child’s behavior in these early years. Some important tips for maintaining a consistent bedtime routine:
- Protect your child’s sleep time. According to the Sleep Foundation, toddlers need about 12-18 hours of sleep each day. This is generally divided between a long overnight period and 1-2 naps during the day time that decrease as the child gets older. Consistent daily naptimes and bedtimes are essential to your young child’s health and well-being.
- Establish a nighttime bedtime routine. In order to make bedtime go smoothly, establish a bed time routine that you can carry out each evening. This is an excellent opportunity to establish important personal hygiene habits such as bathing, tooth brushing, etc.
- Avoid saying no too often. Instead, praise positive behavior that you wish to encourage.
- Remove as many temptations from your home as possible to limit behaviors you do not wish to encounter.
- Use distraction when possible to limit an undesirable behavior. For example, if your toddler is emptying your bookcase, don’t yell or say no. Instead, offer a different activity such as a book, a favorite toy or time outside to play. Eventually your child will lose interest in the offending behavior.
House Rules for Kids
As toddlers grow into older children, house rules become even more important. When crafting rules, consider the four categories suggested by Larry Nucci, research psychologist at the Institute of Human Development at the University of California:
These rules are meant to encourage your children to develop into self-regulating, respectful adults. For example, do not hit your brother. Be kind.
These rules are meant to keep your children safe. Rules such as do not cross the road without looking or stay close to parents in parking lots are intended to prevent harm.
Social Convention Rules
These rules help children fit into society. Rules regarding how they are to address adults, behave in the store, or act in a restaurant are included in this category.
Personal Autonomy Rules
This is the area where parents and children are mostly likely to come into conflict. Children consider some areas of their life their own, such as when to take a bath or who to be friends with, but parental guidance is often needed.
When creating rules for your older child, consider the following factors:
- Know your children. Create rules that fit your lifestyle and your children. What works at the neighbor’s house may or may not work in yours. For example, a timid child will not necessarily need as many safety rules as an adventurous one.
- Continue the enforcement of rules. Communication, clarity and consistency are key avenues for success.
- Retain your parental authority. As your child grows older, they will question you more and more. Do not give in to the temptation to explain your reasons for each and every request you make. When you do so, you open yourself up to the idea that your child can decide whether or not to comply with your request or rule.
- Provide assistance when necessary. Children will become easily frustrated if they feel they are being held to standards beyond their capability. A strict bedtime is still important for older children to ensure they are at their best each day. However, it may be difficult for them to unwind on their own. Help your child relax at bedtime by reading a book or limiting video games. Providing a structure such as this around an expected behavior will ensure that your child can be successful.
House Rules for Teenagers
As a child matures, parents can look to give him or her more freedom as responsibility is earned. Naturally, teens will begin to demand more freedom as they earn privileges like driving. How much freedom you choose to give depends on the child.
The Mayo Clinic has several suggestions to keep in mind when crafting rules for your teenage son or daughter:
- Keep rules clear and concise. Consider putting them into writing to avoid arguments later.
- Keep the lines of communication open, including explaining to older children why a rule exists.
- Be reasonable and flexible. Do not set your teen up for failure by holding on too tightly. Instead, negotiate rules that allow autonomy but keep true to your parenting goals.
As with younger children, be prepared to always enforce any rule you make. Consistent enforcement is critical to maintain order. Consequences for misbehavior should be swift but proportionate to the infraction.
Family Feud Rules
No matter how well established your family rules are, eventually conflicts and feuds will arise. When they do, how conflicts are resolved is extremely important to the long term health of your relationships. Keep in mind that a conflict is an opportunity for negotiation, change, and growth.
The first step to prevent the conflict from escalating is to listen to each party with an open mind. Consider what the root causes of the conflict stem from. Is it a temporary issue? Does it come from a recent change or upheaval in the family structure? Is it permanent? What feelings do the affected parties have?
The second step is to work as a team to resolve the issue. It can be difficult to remember that every problem has a solution when you are angry. Sometimes, the most minor changes can have the largest impacts. Once you understand the roots of the conflict, you can work within the family to come to a resolution.
Lastly, know when to seek professional help. Some family feuds stem from problems that are beyond our control or negotiation. When that happens, consult experts in your community for treatment, assistance, and healing.