Blackboard with House Rules for Kids
Behavior,  Parenting

Family Rules: Why and How

Post at a Glance: Reasons to have family rules / How to set clear and fair house rules for kids


Are you wondering if it makes sense to establish clear family rules?

It does.

Research suggests that a democratic parenting style that balances control with clear limits but allows exploration, and is responsive, warm and nurturing, is the best parenting approach.

Children of parents with a democratic style are more likely to develop high self-esteem, high social competence and optimal academic performance.

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Why are Rules Important for Children?

Rules and limits are important because they

  1. help our children’s socio-emotional development
  2. keep children safe
  3. provide structure and predictability
  4. teach us how to live in society
  5. show our kids we are firm but caring
  6. improve family dynamics and coexistence
  7. teach self-discipline that can also be applied at school and in social interaction
  8. remove the stress or the need to re-negotiate and second-guess each situation
Related Reading: Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child,  Eliminating Conflict by Establishing CLEAR, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries

What Type of Rules will Help your Child?

There are some important learning areas that benefit from clear rules. These are some examples:

  • Acceptable behaviors (e.g. no aggression, showing respect)
  • Safety
    Rules that promote safety teach valuable lesson.
    An example could be: “We don’t talk to strangers on the way home from school”
  • Family routines (tasks and routines for family members)

Tips on How to Set Family Rules

When you are trying to decide what are the household rules that should govern your family life, remember that rules need to be:

  1. Fair
  2. Necessary
    Don’t create rules for the sake of having rules. Evaluate how a rule is going to help your child or your family.
  3. Clearly defined, not abstract.
    A rule that is not clearly defined is opened to different interpretations.
    For example, if your child needs to clean up the bedroom before getting screen time. “Clean up” may not be clear enough, but “Bed made & toys back in boxes before screen time” is a much clearer instruction.
  4. Simple and clearly communicated
    Make sure that the rules are easy to understand and that they have been clearly communicated to your kids
  5. Discussed and understood: not just how the rule works but why we have the rule, how it helps family life
    Rules are more likely to be followed if your child understands why that rule is important for him/her and the family. Explain why a certain rule is a good thing. If they buy into its importance, they will internalize it and comply even when you are not closely supervising.
  6. Consistently enforced.
    If breaking a rule is sometimes punished and sometimes ignored, it sends a confusing signal.
    It is important too that both parents agree on this. It doesn’t make sense to have one parent on board, while the other doesn’t deem a certain rule necessary, as this results in inconsistency.
  7. Linked to planned consequences
    Plan consequences for non-compliance.
    Don’t jump and establish a consequence based on your mood. Establish fair consequences that are relevant and adequate to the infraction.
  8. Reviewed
    Be open to making changes if a rule doesn’t seem to be working.
    Also, rules that are great today may not be the ones your kid needs when he/she gets older, so make sure you review them over time.

Some additional tips:

  1. Don’t create a huge list of rules. Prioritize the important ones, but make sure those are enforced.
    This is especially important with younger kids, who will have problems remembering too many rules. It will also be easier for you to enforce those rules, if there are just a few ones.
  2. Expect the rules to be transgressed. They may be forgotten, or your kid may try to test the limits. This is why consistency is important. Rules will only become internalized once they realize you are going to stick to them
  3. Explain in advance what the consequences are for breaking the rules.
  4. Praise compliance, don’t focus only on the situations when rules have not been followed.
  5. Prepare a list and get your family rules up where everybody can see them.

 What are some good family rules

When I first drafted this article, I had added a section entitled “examples of family rules” (I even visualized a nice printable with household rules).

But, as I started crafting this post, I decided I wanted to deliver an important message. And I did not want my examples to get in the way.

Family rules should be tailored to your specific family situation

Some families may be dealing with excessive screen time, others with kids not helping with household chores, some may struggle to get the kids to bed at a decent time, or have issues with talking to each other respectfully.

So, before we jump into a list of rules, and in order to keep them short and simple, we need to look at what will help our kids and our family life. Prioritize the important rules and work on making those rules happen.

What to Do If Somebody Breaks the Rules?

It is important to be consistent enforcing the rules.

When a child breaks a family rule, you may need to evaluate why that rule was broken:

  • Was it forgotten? Not understood? You may need to remind your child about the rule and ask him/her to comply
  • Just didn’t want to comply -> You would need to enforce the consequences

Other Behavior Resources

Family Rules: Why and How

8 Reason why you need family rules and how to set good rules for kids

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