6 Tips for Setting Clear House Rules for Kids

Establish Ground Rules With Your Kids

Mom talking with daughter about house rules for behavior.
Set clear house rules with your kids. Photo © Emely/Getty Images

Establishing a clearly defined set of house rules makes it easier for your children to align their behavior with your expectations. That's a no-brainer. But what many parents don't know is that having a clear set of rules also makes it easier for you to use consistent discipline strategies and dole out age-appropriate consequences, when necessary.

Guidelines For Developing Your Own Set of House Rules:

  1. Keep the List of Rules Simple. Avoid coming up with a long, complicated set of rules or attempt to micro-manage every possible scenario. Instead, aim for a concise list of rules that lets your kids know what you expect of them at all time. Your kids should be able to memorize the list of rules and even repeat them back to you.
  1. Limit the List to 3-5 Items. A list of ten rules simply can't be memorized, and the point of having a clear set of rules is to communicate your expectations in a concise, succinct manner so that your kids can remember them.
  2. Use Positive Language. Phrase your wording in a positive manner. Let your rules to teach your kids what you want them to do, rather than what you want them not to do. For example, instead of "Don't call one another names," try "Be kind to one another." Instead of "Don't mess with other people's stuff," try "Respect others' belongings." Instead of "Don't run in the house," try "Use walking feet indoors."
  3. Let Your Kids Help You Write the Rules. You already have some definite ideas about what will fly in your house and what won't. However, giving the kids a chance to participate in writing a list of rules will increase their sense of ownership and their willingness to follow the rules. You might also be surprised to learn what's important to them and what makes your home feel peaceful.
  1. Refer to Your Family Rules Often. Especially with young children, you should review the rules frequently. For example, before attending a party together at someone else's house, you might say to the kids, "Now, what are the rules again?" The act of repeating them back to you will help your kids remember them and also recognize that they apply in different situations.

    Sample Family Rules

    1. Treat one another as you'd like to be treated.
    2. Use an "indoor voice" when we're inside.
    3. Use "walking feet" in the house.
    4. Use your manners.
    5. Do your best.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What if my ex has different rules? It's not uncommon for co-parents to have different rules. It's your prerogative to define what works in your own home, and your ex has that same right. Realize, though, that you're doing your kids a favor when you make your own rules clear. Parents who resist setting rules because they other parent's rules are lax only add to their kids' confusion. Trust that your kids are capable of knowing the difference between what applies at your house and what applies at your ex's house, just like they know the difference between home rules and school rules.

    What if our kids play us off one another? First of all, they will. You can expect your kids to push the boundaries to see whether they're firm or flexible. That's what kids do, especially when you first tell them about a new set of rules. So instead of getting angry when this happens, acknowledge that it's a necessary part of recognizing that your rules, and the consequences you dole out for breaking them, are real.

    What if my ex has no rules at home? In this case, it will be even more important for your kids to know what the rules are when they're at your house. Kids really do crave consistency, even when they resist it. So instead of being ambiguous about what you expect in your own home, be clear and give your kids the chance to surprise you with their ability to adapt.