Creating rules for kids requires a delicate balance. Kids need enough rules so they feel safe and secure but give them too many, and you may stifle their development. It gets even more complicated when you have multiple children who need different rules for one reason or another. And to top that off, the rules need to change as your child grows and develops more independence.
Create a formal list of written household rules to cover the big rules that you think are the most important. For example, if keeping an orderly house is especially important to you, a rule might be “Pick up after yourself,” or “Make your bed each morning.”
Then, there are the less formal rules that arise out of necessity. For example, even though you may not specifically say you have a rule against singing loudly at the dinner table, there may be times that you have to tell your child to focus more on eating and less on belting out the tunes.
When it comes to establishing rules, especially the less formal ones, it can be helpful to examine the underlying reason for the rule to make sure there is some sound reasoning behind it. If you get too knit-picky and offer too many rules, it will be increasingly difficult to get your child to listen to directions. For example, if you constantly give rapid-fire commands like, “Sit up straight. Chew with your mouth closed. And stop fidgeting,” your child will begin to tune you out.
When creating your household rules, an authoritative approach can help kids understand the reason behind the rule and the negative consequences for breaking the rules. Consistency is the key to getting kids to comply with rules. When determining age appropriate discipline strategies, there are several types of rules that should be considered.
1. Rules that Promote Safety
Kids certainly need rules that keep them safe. And safety includes both physical safety and emotional safety. Physical safety rules include things like “Sit on the furniture only (no standing)” and “Don’t answer the door when Mom’s in the shower.” Emotional safety rules may include things like, “Use kind words only,” or “Everyone can share their feelings as long as it is polite.” When kids feel safe, they are free to focus their energy on exploring their talents and their environment.
2. Rules that Promote Morality
Creating rules gives you the opportunity to instill values and morals in your children. Create some rules to live by, such as “Always tell the truth,” or “Say sorry when you’ve hurt someone else.” It’s essential that you model your values in your own life as kids will learn from watching you.
3. Rules that Develop Habits and Routine
Kids do best when they have routine and structure. Therefore, there should be rules to develop healthy habits each day. For example, “Brush your teeth after breakfast,” or “Put your dirty clothes in the hamper.”
Creating healthy habits and routines helps reduce power struggles. When kids know that they are supposed to hang their coat up when they come home from school or that they’re supposed to do homework right after dinner, it can reduce a lot of arguing as long as there are clear consequences for misbehavior.
4. Rules that Promote Social Skills
Kids also need rules that teach them social skills. For example, “Share your toys with your brother,” or “Take turns while playing the game,” teaches kids appropriate ways to interact with others.
Older kids may need rules about their technological devices. For example, tweens often need limits placed on them about texting so they can interact appropriately with people who are physically present. And teenagers may need reminders to come out of their bedrooms and visit with family in the evenings.
5. Rules that Prepare Kids for the Real World
Kids also need rules that will help prepare them for becoming adults. These sorts of rules teach kids life skills that will help them function better once they leave home. The exact rules and help your child will need to develop these skills will depend largely on your child’s temperament. Some kids are just more prone to behaving responsibly and staying motivated with their school work, while other kids need extra rules to support them.
For example, setting rules about chores and money helps prepare kids for the working environment. Provide kids with chores and the opportunity to earn an allowance. Then, teach them about money so they can learn how to save and spend money wisely so they are better prepared for paying their own bills as adults.