Parenting Tip of the Month: How to Create an Effective Rule

by | Aug 1, 2017

All kids need rules. Rules keep our kids safe, provide them with structure and security, and set both family and community expectations. As parents, it is important to put some thought into the rules that we set for our kids so that they can be consistent and effective. Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself when deciding on a rule.

1. What is the rule? What expectation or boundary do you want to have for you child?
2. What is the reason for the rule? This can be helpful to think about because kids respond better to rules when there is a logical reason behind the rule. They are more likely to challenge and fight against rules that don’t make sense or seem irrational.
3. When is the rule to be in place? Is the rule for when you child is at home or school or both?  This will be important to share with your child when explaining the rule to them so that they have a clear understanding of the expectations.
4. Are there exceptions? You may or may not decide to tell your child about these exceptions in advance, but you will want to determine if there are exceptions to the rule and how you will share that with your child when the time comes. What is important to keep in mind is that you will want the exception to be logical and consistent, otherwise it will seem that the rule is open to debate in the future.
5. How long will the rule be in effect? You may want to consider how long the rule will be in place. For example, is this a rule that will be tied to their age or maybe level of maturity? For example, curfews. A curfew may be 7pm when they are 14 but 10pm when they are 17. Communicating this to your child can be helpful because it lets them know that you are making sure the rule is age appropriate and flexible as they grow and/or show more responsibility.
6. How will the rule be monitored? This is so important for parents to consider. You do not want to set a rule that you can’t monitor because, let’s be honest, if a kid can break a rule without being caught, they will. For example, you don’t want to say, “no video games after school” if there is no one there to make sure that they don’t play video games. If you want to create a rule like that, you may have to be creative and do something like keeping the controllers in your car during the day and bringing them in at night when your children are allowed to play.
7. How will you communicate the rule to your child? Giving your child a heads up about a rule in advance is always the best option. And, not only is it important to communicate the rule, but informing them of the reason, timeframe (if known), and consequences is also helpful.
8. Will there be rewards for following the rule? I don’t recommend tying too many rewards to rule following because most rules in life don’t promise rewards. However, positive praise and reinforcement will always go a long way in helping your kids continue to follow the rules.
9. What are the consequences for breaking the rules? There should always be consequences tied to the rule. Sometimes natural consequences are the best consequences and sometimes you will need to come up with logical consequences. A natural consequence may be something like a child getting a bad grade on a test when they didn’t study. It is important not to piggy back with a logical consequence when there is a natural consequence but rather problem solve with your child how they might get a better grade in the future. A logical consequence is a parent determined consequence that is logically tied to the problematic behavior. For example, if the rule is that balls are not thrown in the house and your child breaks this rule, then the logical consequence is that they lose ball privileges for the rest of the day.

Let’s be honest, this might seem like a lot of thought and work for something as simple as a rule. However, putting this forethought into rule setting will ultimately help prevent future problems. Also, more than anything else, consistency is key in making rules effective. If a child learns that something is a consistent rule and has consistent consequences, they are more likely to follow the rule and not challenge it. However, know that at some point your child may challenge the rule you have put in place, and that is why having thought about these questions can be so helpful. Not only will it help you address the behavior, but it will help you feel confident in your decisions.