How to Create Family Rules With Healthy Discipline for Kids
Family rules and guidelines help create a framework for children to understand appropriate behavior. To be effective, these guidelines should be straightforward and specific about your behavioral expectations. It’s also essential that any consequences or discipline techniques are used consistently and predictably. Let’s take a closer look at how to establish rules and guidelines for your family’s behavior along with healthy discipline methods for toddlers and preschoolers.
Why Establishing a Set of Rules Is Important
Children are new to the world. As such, they need a structure to help them understand and make sense of the world around them. Family rules and guidelines give them a way to learn which types of behavior are allowed and which are not. Even as adults, we’re often in places where we must follow the rules. Learning how to follow the rules at home is a great starting point for kids.
Will kids try to test limits and break the rules anyway? Of course! This is why consistent, intentional, predictable consequences are part of healthy discipline for toddlers and preschoolers. It helps them understand the importance of family rules and commit them to memory.
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Getting Everyone On Board With Family Rules
In order to be effective, everyone in the family needs to be aware of and adhere to the family rules. With everyone on the same page, you’re less likely to send your child mixed messages about what is and isn’t allowed. For instance, you may decide to set a family rule that all food must be eaten at the kitchen table. If your spouse or partner, hops onto the couch with a bag of chips, your child may feel confused. When all caregivers (including grandparents or babysitters) are on board with the rules in a consistent way, you’ll see better behavior in the child. Parents can take a number of steps to improve consistency:
- Discuss which rules would be beneficial to the family and come to an agreement on guidelines that should be in place.
- Write down the family rules and post them on the refrigerator or in another place where everyone can see them.
- Explain the family rules to other caregivers so that everyone is on the same page about what’s expected.
- Request consistency from your caregivers in minding and implementing the family rules.
- Remind and repeat the family rules regularly to your children.
The complexity of your family rules depends heavily on your child’s age and their ability to comprehend and remember. For instance, a toddler may be able to remember only two or three rules at any given time. It’s also difficult for most parents to be consistent if there are too many new rules in place. However, as your child grows and learns existing rules, you can gradually add more to the list.
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How to Establish Rules and Guidelines With Healthy Discipline
Family rules with clear, consistent consequences help a child understand what is allowed and what is not. Let’s take a look at how to establish those guidelines and a few healthy, positive options for discipline when the rules are broken.
Clearly specify the rules
Very young children can only remember a few rules at a time. Too many guidelines can overwhelm them. Begin with just one to give them an opportunity to learn how rules work before adding more to the list. Make sure your family rules are reasonable and age-appropriate as well.
Be as straightforward and specific as possible. Telling a child something as broad as “be good” is too vague and open to interpretation (especially to a little one). A better guideline would be “treat others with kindness.” Inappropriate behavior should be defined as clearly as possible, such as “no yelling in the house.” It’s also prudent to note the preferred behavior immediately following the rule in order to clearly outline your expectations. For instance: “No yelling in the house. Use your inside voice to speak to one another.”
Examples of Common Family Rules
- No climbing or jumping on furniture. Sit on the couch or lie down on the bed.
- No interrupting. Wait for your turn to speak.
- No hurting. Keep your hands and feet to yourself.
Talk about the rules
Review the rules with your child and make sure they fully understand them. Ask them what a rule means or have them explain the rule to you in their own words. Toddlers and preschoolers may need assistance understanding what some words mean. For instance, if the rule is “use your inside voice,” you may need to describe what that is. When your child yells, you may need to say “Yelling and screaming are something we can do outside. Inside the house, we need to speak quietly. Our rule is no yelling in the house. You need to use your inside voice.”
Very young children need regular reminders about the rules. Repeat them often and consider posting a chart in places that everyone in the family can see, like on a frequently used door or on the refrigerator. For clarity, your chart should have a column for rules and another for the consequences of breaking the rules. Images or other visual clues alongside the rules are a great communication tool for little ones who’ve not yet learned to read. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers a blank rules chart you can download and customize.
Model good behavior by following the rules yourself
Everyone in the family should follow the family rules. Children are constantly observing and taking their cues from the adults around them. For instance, if you say “please” and “thank you” often to other adults and family members, you teach your children how to politely and respectfully respond as well.
It also helps to “catch” your child following the rules by offering labeled praise. This is a way of offering specific recognition for their good choices. Let them know exactly what they did that you liked as soon as you observe the behavior. For example, “I like how you just shared that toy with your brother. That was so kind of you!” Use this strategy often when you create a new rule to help your child adjust to the new expectations.
Use positive healthy discipline methods when rules aren’t followed
For maximum effectiveness, consistently enforce appropriate consequences for your child’s behavior. Consequences should be consistent, immediate, and directly related to the infraction. For instance, an appropriate consequence for coloring on a wall would be to take the crayons away for a while and have the child scrub the marks. The consequence should be something they don’t like. Sending a child to their room where they play with toys may not be effective. Time-out is another option, where you place the child in a boring place for a minute for each year of age and don’t interact with them. You can also take away privileges. Avoid using aversive discipline techniques, like yelling and spanking. According to the policy statement released by the American Academy of Pediatrics, entitled Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children, these types of discipline strategies are ineffective and can have long-term negative effects.
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