How to Set Down House Rules for Kids

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Making a list of house rules for kids can be a challenge. There are so many things that could be included in such a list; however, as most parents have found, children have a hard time keeping the rules if there are too many rules for them to remember.

For this reason, it is important to set priorities. There are some forms of behavior (i.e. physical violence, disrespect to parents) that kids should never be allowed to get away with. Then there are certain forms of behavior (i.e. forgetfulness, failing to pick up clothes off the floor) that are not all that bad and do not necessarily merit their own rule.

House Rules for Kids – Examples

Instead of making a long list of rules for kids, consider just using the following three:

  • You may not hurt yourself
  • You may not hurt others
  • You may not damage things

These rules are ideal even for small children, as they are easy to remember. At the same time, they are also good house rules for teenagers, as the principles outlined above can apply to any children regardless of age and temperament. Following are some pointers that explore these rules further, as well as tips on how to help children want to obey the rules.

Exploring the Rules

You May Not Hurt Yourself

The rule “you may not hurt yourself” is pretty self-explanatory. Children should understand that some activities are dangerous and they should not engage in them.

What constitutes a dangerous activity naturally varies depending on a child’s age. For example, a two or three year old should never be allowed into the kitchen, especially if there are pots on the stove and/or the oven is on. However, an older child who is twelve or thirteen years old can not only go into the kitchen by him or herself but even cook simple meals. Given this fact, it is important to adjust the rules as kids get older to ensure that they remain appropriate and applicable.

When applying this rule to older children and teens, it is important to clarify what constitutes “hurting yourself.” Teens in particular are frequently tempted to engage in dangerous behavior such as trying drugs, drinking, smoking and speeding and should understand that these behaviors can cause them serious, lifelong harm.

You May Not Hurt Others

The rule “you may not hurt others” may be quite clear for parents; however, children may need some explanation as to what constitutes hurting others. Younger children may not realize that poking fun at someone and calling them a name can hurt this person even more than a slap or a kick. At the same time, older children need to realize that there are times when a friend will want them to do something that is wrong; in such instances, it is acceptable to say no, even if doing so hurts the friend’s feelings. In short, this particular rule can and should cover all a child’s interactions with others.

You May Not Damage Things

The last rule is “you may not damage things.” Naturally, this rule refers to deliberate damaging of things rather than instances where a child drops something on accident. While children should be taught how to be careful with delicate items, breaking something on accident should not be cause for punishment unless the child was careless and had been warned about his or her careless behavior.

Another aspect of not damaging things is learning how to care for them properly. Even very young children can learn how to put their toys away when they are done playing with them. Older children can be given the responsibility of caring for all their belongings and ensuring that they are not left lying around. If an older child breaks or loses an item due to careless or destructive behavior, then the appropriate punishment would be for them to replace the item with their own money.

How to Help Children Obey the Home Rules

While the above mentioned rules for children are certainly effective, simply creating a list of good house rules for kids is not enough. Children need to learn how to obey the rules or else the rules become pointless. Following are some tips on teaching children to want to obey household rules.

  • Talk to older children and teens before setting down a list of house rules. Ask them which rules should be on the list and which should not. Carefully listen to what they have to say and, when possible, include their ideas on the list. You will also want to explain why you feel certain rules are important. Additionally, ask children what they feel would be an appropriate punishment for breaking any given home rule. Kids who have a say in making the rules and deciding on the punishments for breaking them will be more likely to obey these rules than kids who have no say in the matter.
  • It is important for both parents to agree on the rules. If one parent is more lenient than the other, children will pick up on this and play both parents against each other. When this happens, the kids can get away with all sorts of wrong behavior while the parents argue about what is and is not allowed and/or the consequences of inappropriate behavior.
  • Explain what each rule means and make sure that the children understand what is and is not covered. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Never assume that children understand what you mean; ask them what they think you mean and then clarify any misunderstandings.
  • It is important to be clear as to what punishment is in order for breaking a home rule. It is even more important to make sure that there is indeed a consequence every single time a child breaks the rule. Children who are allowed to break a rule at certain points in time but not others will lose their respect for the home rules (and their parents).
  • Realize that it will take time before the children develop new habits and become adept at keeping the house rules. Children, like adults, get into habits and these habits can be hard to break. Do not get discouraged if you set down a list of home rules, only to have your kids break a fair few of them the next day or two.
  • Finally, be sure to praise the children when they build new habits. Instead of being on the lookout for things the kids do wrong, look for things they do right. Praise them when they are kind to a playmate, make an effort to care for their things and have good manners at the table. Children love praise and encouragement.

It is extremely important for every single parent to have a list of home rules that children are required to adhere to. These rules should be simple, clear and easy for children to remember. At the same time, the punishment for breaking any given rule must also be clear and the same punishment should be given every single time.

Older children should be involved in helping draw up the home rules. They should be able to have their say as to which rules they feel are fair and unfair. Parents should listen carefully to their children, explain points on which they disagree and make sure the children understand what each rule entails.

As children learn to adhere to home rules, they will learn valuable skills of self-discipline, consideration for others and self-esteem. While it may take time and a great deal of effort to make and enforce home rules, the results are more than worth it. Home rules will make it possible for you to teach your children to become well-rounded and mature; they will also help you children feel secure as they will know their boundaries and what will happen if these boundaries are crossed.

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