Making House Rules That Stick

What separates a calm, happy home from a stressful, chaotic one? There are probably several ways to answer that question, but the first thing that comes to mind is order. We can create order in our homes by creating, and following through with, rules. Rules can be a tricky thing, though. Children are born into the world with innocence, sure, but also a complete lack of common sense. One mother said it well when she said she felt her duty, as a parent, was to raise children that other people liked to be around. What is endearing behavior in a one year old will probably not win that same child many friends 15 years down the road.

When setting rules in a home, you must make sure that they are understood and accepted. If the rules are too many, or too complex, you will find yourself constantly nagging your family, which definitely doesn’t lead to a harmonious home. Make the rules simple, easy to remember, and make sure your reasons are clear. Also, set up consequences, and then follow through with them. A rule that is not enforced is a waste of your energy, and the best you can hope for is a headache and a fresh start the next day! Finally, and above all, show love. Whether your children have an easy time following rules, or not, they must never doubt that you love them.

Rules Must Make Sense

If a child asks you “why” and the best you can come up with is “because I said so!”, then your rule is probably not very well thought out. Explain, in age-appropriate language, why your rules are what they are, and what the danger is if a child doesn’t follow that rule. Any child can understand that if they don’t hold on to your hand in a parking lot, they run the risk of running into a car!

Rules Must Be Clearly Explained

Figure out what works for your family. For some people, writing the basic family rules on a large poster and hanging it on the wall might be the perfect solution. For others, it’s enough for the parents to know the rules and run through them with kids as needed. Just make sure that the rules are clear before they are needed. Nobody likes to be told they’ve gotten in trouble without knowing they were doing anything wrong.

Rules Must Be Agreed On

This might mean voting on a set of Family Standards. This could also mean that children agree that Mom and Dad are in charge. Whatever works for you, make sure that everyone is on board. Homes are not generally democracies, and this can be easy to forget when you are in the trenches! Be kind, but firm.

Rules Must Not Be Too Many, or Too Complex

If your family rules begin to number in the hundreds, then perhaps it is time to simplify. There is wisdom in broad rules that allow the child to decide some things for themselves. For example, if there is a rule that children don’t climb the fence, but there is no rule about climbing onto the roof, then someone could climb onto the roof. Then you will need to add another rule! But if you have a rule that children don’t climb onto tall objects without supervision, then the child can decide for each fence, roof and tree whether or not it falls into the “tall objects” category. They can also have the consequences if they choose wrongly.

Consequences Must Be Equal to the Behavior

While Draconian Law was arguably quite effective; it is not a popular way to run a home. Use common sense when choosing consequences for misbehavior, and save the big guns for the big mistakes. It is often a good idea to have the consequence be directly related to the rule that was broken. For example, if your child refuses to pick up their toys, you take the toys away until a designated time. If they do not turn off the television when asked, their TV privileges are taken away. Children will learn better this way than if you respond by yelling, spanking, or providing a punishment that has nothing to do with the broken rule.

Follow Through on Consequences

A rule is only as effective as its administration. If you threaten to take away TV privileges, and then allow the child to watch TV if they promise “not to do it again”, then you have just cancelled out your own rule. Give your children small consequences, and disappointments, when they are small so that when they are grown, they do not have to endure the big consequences.

Reward Good Behavior

One very effective way to encourage good behavior is to reward it! Note good behavior in your children, and remark on it. A simple “Good job!” or a hug will go a long way. Your child will gain confidence in their own judgment, and they will want to continue to make you happy.

Always Show Love After a Punishment

If rules are broken, and punishments are meted out, always offer the child a hug or an I Love You. Think how you feel when you disappoint someone. Often, all you want is to make them happy again. Assuring your child that you still love them, and explaining why you needed to help them learn this lesson, will help your child grow and be happy. When a child knows their parent loves them, all can be right in their world.

Naughty happens. It’s simply a fact of life. Your job, as a parent, is to make sure that you child understands – before, during, and after the punishment – that you love them. You love them now, and always. By setting rules in your home, and kindly and firmly following through with them, you can make your home into the calm and loving place it can be.

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