Family rules let everyone in the family know how to behave.
They help family members achieve a balance between getting what they want and respecting the needs of others and they can also help children and teenagers feel safe and secure.
Rules can help your family members get along better, and make family life more peaceful. Effective rules are positive statements about how your family wants to look after and treat its members.
Family rules will differ from family to family and will be based on the family’s beliefs, values and religion, but they should be sensible and stated clearly. children learn where the limits are and what is expected of them.
It also allows parents to be consistent in the way they treat all children.
Who to involve in making rules
It’s important to involve all members of the family even the young children when rules are being made. As children get older, they can contribute even more when deciding what the rules should be, as well as the consequences for breaking them.
By the time they reach adolescence, involvement in rule-making will give children valuable experience in taking responsibility for their own behaviour.
Involving your child in creating both the family rules and the consequences for breaking them helps her or him to understand and accept them.
What to make rules about
There is no need to have a rule for every thing, but rules should be made for the most important things such as:
Manners and politeness
daily routines and chores
how you treat each other. No hitting or shouting at each other
Alcohol and drugs
On line rules and rules governing cell phones
How to develop rules
Children and teenagers appreciate being involved in the rule-making process.
Taking part in discussions about rules won’t necessarily stop young people from breaking them. It will, however, help them understand what the rules are and why they’re needed.
Many families find it useful to write down a set of rules about how family members are expected to behave. Writing them down makes them clear, and can also prevent arguments about what is or isn’t allowed. Sticking the rules on the fridge, or in another prominent spot, can help younger children be constantly aware of them.
Written rules are also helpful for teenagers. For children of this age, instead of making the rules public by sticking them on the fridge, it’s a good idea to keep them somewhere a little more private that's still close to hand for when you need to refer to them.
When to start making rules
You can start making simple rules as soon as your child has the language skills to understand them. This is part of teaching your child what you expect.
Young children will need supervision and support to follow rules. Preschoolers tend to forget, are inconsistent in their behaviour and can be easily distracted. Remember that a false sense of security in a rule can lead to tragic consequences (for example, ‘He knows not to go near the dam’, ‘She knows not to touch matches’).
Some children with special needs might also need help to understand and remember rules.
All children are different, but it’s usually not until they reach middle to late primary school age you can start relying on them to follow rules without your guidance in most situations.
Teenagers and rules
The teenage years present a new challenge. At this stage, young people begin to explore their own power, and might push for more autonomy and independence. This can sometimes involve challenging the family rules. Your teenager might be feeling tension between your family’s rules and the expectations of his peer group, and might be working hard to balance the two.
But rules are just as important for teenagers as they are for younger children, and it’s never too late to create or reinforce them. Involving your teenager in creating family rules can help him feel that you listen to him and he can contribute. He’ll also be more likely to see you as fair and stick to the agreed rules.
Rules about safe behaviour are likely to be helpful for you and your teenager. These might include rules about alcohol use, sex, dating and curfews. Some families find negotiating and signing safety contracts useful.
Be willing to discuss and adjust rules as your teenager gets older – for example, by extending your child’s curfew.