More Harmony, Less Stress with Family Rules

Mother and daughter washing hands

October 6, 2020

When schedules change regularly, families may have a less established routine. Parents and kids are in each other’s spaces more, and siblings who may have been at different schools during the day are now spending more time together (for better or worse!). Parents may be seeing more behavior issues, more fighting between siblings, and more stress.

Any Baby Can’s parenting classes use the Nurturing Parenting program to build positive parenting skills and appropriate disciplinary practices. One activity that can help bring order and structure to a household is establishing family rules.

Making rules can feel hard at the beginning and it takes consistency. But when done correctly, formalizing rules in your home can have great effects including increase in desired behaviors, less need for discipline, and a boost in your child’s self-confidence.

Steps to Making Family Rules

1) Involve the whole family

One of the most important aspects of successful family rules is to be sure everyone is involved in making the rules. Rules should not be a set of mandates established by the parents or caregivers and imposed on the children.

Schedule a specific, relaxed time for the family to come together. Make the atmosphere fun and inviting by offering cookies or playing music. Invite everyone in the household around a table or on the couch. Bring a large piece of paper or a white board and markers. Draw a line down the center and make two columns: label one DOs and one DON’Ts.

2) Encourage participation

Prompt the children to share what they feel may be problems. You may be surprised what they’ve had in mind. From the kids, it may sound like:

  • Sister comes in my room, and takes my stuff!
  • Brother plays his music too loud!
  • I don’t like it when mom yells.

Parents should take some notes and also keep in mind specific behaviors you want children to have. From the grown-ups, it may be issues like:

  • Son leaves all his dirty clothes everywhere and I can’t vacuum.
  • I have to spend time cleaning the dinner table and don’t have time to play games with the rest of the family.
  • Getting everyone to do homework is such a difficult task.

What’s working and what’s not working at home? It’s important that this time should just be open, calm discussion. This is not a time for defensiveness or fault-finding. Everyone should have a turn to speak uninterrupted.

Once everyone has had a chance to speak. Come back to the grievances and work together to identify solutions, or rules, for how to better handle these situations.

Why does the child want a rule? Find out what’s going on. What is happening? Why does it bother the child. Then ask leading questions such as, “Billy, what rule should we have about putting toys away?” Or, “Martha, what rule should we have about loud music?” Brainstorm a list together.

3) Write it down.

On the white board or paper, capture the tentative set of rules. But instead of just identifying the undesirable behavior, make sure you’re also noting what to do instead. This will fall into two columns: DON’T and DO. Depending on how your household works, you can add a third column for rewards or consequences that relate to the rules.

Don’t yell ….. DO use quiet voices inside the house.
Don’t leave your dishes on the table….. DO take dishes to the sink.
Don’t come in the room without asking….. DO knock and wait.


“Good” rules are simple and specific! They should be attainable and benefit the whole family. “Bad” rules are one-sided, too difficult to follow or unclear. Vague rules like “be nice to your sibling” and “help out more” are also less productive in establishing guidelines that improve cooperation and reduce the need for discipline.

4) Get buy-in.

You can write down 5 to 7 rules that the family is interested in. But pick just one or two rules to focus on at a time. Rules may need to be defined more clearly so that they are age-appropriate. For example, an older child may be asked to wash and put away laundry, whereas a younger child could be asked to put dirty clothes in a hamper. Does everyone agree with the rules? Is it something everyone can do?

Commit to them for a defined time and check-in after a few weeks or one month. Can the kids be incentivized with a reward, like a family movie or pizza night? Are there clear consequences if not?

Make sure everyone in the household is aware of and working toward the rules.

5) Plan for (and praise) success.

Everyone wants the rules to succeed! Identify ways to make following the rules easy. For example, put a sign on the fridge reminding kids to take dishes to the sink, or on bedroom doors with reminders to knock (they may need to be visual reminders if the child is too young to read). Maybe set a timer when you need kids to pick up dirty clothes or make clean-up a part of the nightly routine.

Make sure rules are fair, clear, reasonable and doable. And when the kids follow the rules, be sure to take time to provide clear and consistent praise. Even if it’s not perfect, praise progress.

Patience Brings Many Benefits

It can be hard to make change, so be consistent and adapt as you go! Family rules are designed to promote and reinforce cooperative behavior and problem solving. They can also help children learn appropriate behavior through parental modeling because the rules apply to everyone. The process of creating rules also helps everyone in the home feel heard and valued, which is empowering even if the rules aren’t followed perfectly.

Join our virtual classes designed to empower you as a parent in creating a nurturing parenting lifestyle specific to the needs of your family. Find an upcoming parenting class.


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