It is safe to say that setting rules and boundaries for children is one of the key responsibilities that almost all parents shoulder. Every family has a set of rules and regulations that teaches younger members of the family about how their family cares for its members. Family rules or house rules are essentially guidelines for all the members of the family.
Previously, we have covered how to set boundaries for children and ways to deal with their challenging behaviour. In this article, we will cover how to set house rules for children in a way that fosters a positive parent-child relationship.
Rules are necessary to avoid chaos at home. A book published in 2014, Parenting Difficult Children: Strategies for Parents of Preschoolers to Preteens, by Michael Hammond, a clinical psychologist, suggests five rules that parents must follow while developing rules for children.
They are as follows:
Behaviour can be observed and tracked easily by both adults and children alike. For example: Parents can easily check if their child has made their bed after waking up in the morning. They will be able to tell the child if the rule has been followed or not. However, parents will find it difficult to track and explain attitudinal changes to the child. That is why the rule must be about observable behaviour and not the attitude, as it is difficult to quantify. For example: The rule states that a child must make their bed after waking up. As long as they make the bed, the rule is considered to be followed on the tracker, even if they make the bed only to get the points or rewards.
Like everything else, rules are more likely to be remembered when they are written. The rules board or a page can be placed at any common place that the child frequently visits in the home, such as the refrigerator. It also prevents future arguments with the child regarding the nuances of the rule or what the rule is and isn’t. It will help the child internalise the rule. However, parents should remember that unless and until the rule is followed up with a consequence, written rules will not do much for the family.
Rules are only taken seriously when the consequences of breaking them are clear for everyone involved. Children, like everyone else, will try to bypass the rule and check if there are any real consequences. When the child finds that the consequences do not always apply or that they can sometimes skip the consequences, eventually they will feel that the rules are not important and are likely to ignore them. Consistency is key when it comes to administering consequences. Consequences work better when they have been decided in advance, since the element of surprise is removed. It will help the child understand that breaking rules has consequences.
Getting children to be involved in the rule development process will ensure that they understand the reasons behind these decisions. They are more likely to follow the rules they have had a hand in creating. You can sit with a child and tell that certain behaviour of theirs needs to change. Ask them for their thoughts and opinions. Do note that every child is different and not all children will actively participate in this. Parents can let them know that the house rules and consequences will be set regardless of their participation.
Compliance with the rule needs to be tracked. Parents need to be consistent in tracking compliance and administering consequences. Failing that, children learn to ignore the aforementioned rule as they realise it is not necessary to follow it. When this happens regularly, the rule will disappear.
Children will take time to get accustomed to rules. They will try to bend the rules and attempt to get away from breaking them now and then. Parents need to work as a team and administer the consequences consistently. Children should also be praised correctly and rewarded for following rules. Eventually, there will come a time when the behaviour will be ingrained and the rule will no longer be necessary. Till then, parents need to stay consistent and keep showing up for their children.
Have you ever set rules for your child? Did you know these things about household rules for children? Tell us about your experience with rule setting and consequences in the comments section below.
Hammond, M. (2014). Parenting Difficult Children: Strategies for Parents of Preschoolers to Preteens. United States: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
“Me-kha-la!” That happens at least once when she introduces herself to new people. She wholeheartedly believes in the quote by Arthur Rubinstein that says – “if you love life, life will love you back”. She is an organizational psychologist and psychometrician. She was a class teacher of 36 adorable girls for two years, grades 2 & 3, as a part of the Teach For India Fellowship. These little girls have a special place in her heart, and when she writes for children, she writes for them!
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