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Establishing House Rules for Kids

Create clear expectations and consequences


Two Children Jumping on a Bed with Stuffed Animals
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It is essential for kids to know what the rules are. However, many parents aren’t even sure exactly what the rules are in the house. It might depend on what sort of mood they are in or which parent is home. Creating rules for children is an important step in establishing effective discipline strategies.

Reasons for Rules

Establishing a set of household rules helps kids understand the importance of having boundaries and limits. Kids look for adults to learn about appropriate and acceptable behaviors and having a written list of rules helps make this clear to children.

A list of household rules can also help kids understand how rules differ in different environments. For example, it may be acceptable to yell at the playground but in the library voices should be in a whisper. Establishing written rules helps kids know what is okay in your home.

A written set of rules can also help ensure that all the caregivers are on the same page. That way, when there’s a babysitter or when Grandma comes over, everyone will know that the kids are expected to put their dishes in the sink or do whatever is on your list.

Rules can also be a reminder for adults who are trying to model positive behaviors for the kids. If the rule states that everyone must pick up their dishes, it is important for the adults to do so as well and a written set of rules can help reinforce this.

This can also help kids remind each other of the rules. Kids will often say to their friend who comes over to visit, “At my house we’re not allowed to jump on the couch.” This is a sign of a parent who has been clear about the expectations.

10 Tips for Establishing Household Rules

Create a Written List of Rules

It is important that you write out the list of rules and hang them in a prominent location. Keeping the rules on the refrigerator or displayed somewhere where everyone can see them is a good reminder.

When creating the list of rules, don’t list every single rule imaginable. Instead, try to limit it to the ten most important rules. I’ve seen some parents come up with several pages of rules which turns out to be more like a rule book rather than a list. Remember, it is important to make the list easy to remember and to be a basic guide.

Try to word the rules positively. For example instead of saying, “Don’t throw your clothes on the floor,” try using, “Place your dirty clothes in the hamper.” Make a list of what “to do” instead of “what not to do” when possible.

Get the kids involved in making the rules. This authoritative approach of involving children in creating the rules can help keep them motivated to follow them. Ask their opinion about what sorts of things they think are important when creating the rules and try to include some of their ideas.

See a Sample List of Household Rules

Establish Consequences for Following and Breaking the Rules

It is important to discuss what sort of discipline strategies will be used to address the rules. There should be positive and negative consequences for kids that help them to follow the rules.

When kids follow the rules, there should be positive consequences. Praise kids when you catch them following a rule. Also, consider using rewards as an incentive. For example, if your child followed all the rules today, allow him to have all of his privileges.

When kids don’t follow the rules, there needs to be a negative consequence to discourage the child from breaking the rule again. Make sure that the consequences constitute discipline and not punishment so that your child does not get discouraged. Negative consequences may include things such as loss of privileges or a time out.

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