10 Tips for Establishing Household Rules

Create household rules that make your expectations clear.

Create a list of household rules for everyone in the family to follow.
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A lot of families have sort of “unofficial rules” that they follow, like "put your dishes in the sink after dinner." But, most families never create a list of official household rules.

If you don't have a list of household rules, you might want to consider creating some. Outlining your expectations is an effective way to reduce behavior problems and increase your discipline consistency.

Here are 10 tips for establishing your household rules:

1. Word the rules in a positive manner when possible.

Try to word the rules in a positive way when possible. Say, “Use respectful language," instead of "No swearing.” Just make sure you have a conversation with your child about what constitutes respectful language Make sure you have a conversation about what constitutes respectful language so your child knows what the rule means.

You may also need to include a list of “don’t rules” that offers more specifics. For example, if you have a rule that says, "Use gentle touches with the pets,” you may need to include a list of what that entails by saying, “Don’t hit, don’t pull the cat's tail, and don't squeeze the animals.”

2. Enforce the rules consistently.

Your rules will only be helpful if you enforce them consistently. If you only enforce the rules occasionally, kids are only likely to try and follow them occasionally. So make it clear that any time your child breaks a rule, you're going to take action.

3. Provide negative consequences when rules are broken.

Kids need consequences to help them make better choices the next time. Appropriate consequences for breaking the rules may include things such as time out, loss of privileges or restitution.

Explain the negative consequences for breaking the rules ahead of time.

When kids understand the potential consequences of breaking the rules, it increases the likelihood that they’ll follow the rules.

4. Schedule regular family meetings to review the rules.

As your child grows or your family changes, rules need to change too. Talk as a family about rules that may need to be adapted. You can cross certain rules off the list when it's no longer a problem.

The rules you needed when your child was a preschooler are going to be much different from the rules you need when he's a teenage. So adjust your household rules accordingly.

5. Allow kids to offer input into the rules.

When kids have ideas and suggestions, agree to at least consider them. Your child will be more likely to follow the rules when he feels like he had some input into them. Your child may come up with new ideas and things you hadn't even though of including, so have an open mind.

6. Model good behavior.

Household rules means that everyone follows them--including you. If a rule at your house is to tell the truth, don’t say your 13-year-old is only 12 just to get a cheaper movie ticket. Instead, role model honesty to your kids at all times.

7. Take responsibility for your own mistakes.

There are times you will break the rules but if you try to downplay your behavior or make excuses, your kids will do the same when they break the rules.So if you say a swear word or you tell a lie, take full responsibility for your behavior.

8. Give kids a short explanation of the rules.

Kids will be much more likely to see the importance of a rule if they understand the reasoning behind the rule. So explain, "We walk in the house because there isn't enough room to run around and someone might get hurt."

9. Create specific rules for each child.

In addition to household rules that everyone is expected to follow, you’ll likely need specific rules for each child. Rules for a teenager should be different than rules than a 7-year-old.

A list of specific rules for each child should be separated from the household rules for everyone. Rules should be age appropriate and should include age appropriate consequences as well.

10. Create situational rules.

In addition to household rules, there will also need to be situational rules. Make sure kids understand that there may be additional rules when you’re in the grocery store or attending a friend’s birthday party.

You may need to discuss situational rules prior to each situation. For example, kids may need reminders that when visiting Grandma in the hospital the rules include “using walking feet and quiet, inside voices,” which are different from the rules on the playground.

Following the Rules

Hang up your list of written rules in an area where everyone can see them. Review the list as needed. When your child is aware of the rules, he'll be more likely to follow them and you won't need to spend as much time disciplining him.

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