October 12, 2023

A Guide for Parents to Forming and Enforcing Household Rules

Family Rules: The Unsung Heroes of a Happy Home

Think of family rules as the secret sauce that keeps your home running smoothly. They're not just for the house; they're life lessons your children can take with them wherever they go—school, soccer practice, or even a friend's house. For example, if one of your golden rules is to always say "please" when they are making a request or asking for permission, and "thank you," when they are receiving something or acknowledging another person’s efforts, don't be surprised when you hear your children using those words with their teachers and friends too. For example, saying “please” when they want a cookie from the jar, and “thank you” when you give it to them. 

So yes, family rules are a big deal, and they're doing more good than you might realize.

The Power of Consistency: Why It’s the Game-Changer in Rule Enforcement

Consistency isn't just a buzzword; it's the cornerstone of a peaceful and respectful home. When you're consistent in enforcing rules, two great things happen: your child's behavior improves, and so does your relationship with them. On the flip side, if you're hit-or-miss with rule enforcement, you're setting the stage for confusion and eroding trust.

Take the "no screens at dinner" rule. If you stick to it, with no exceptions, your children get the message loud and clear: dinner time is family time, period. Whether they "forgot" or are pushing boundaries, your consistent response drives home the importance of this rule.

Children, especially the younger ones, might break rules for all sorts of reasons—maybe they forgot, didn't understand, or were just plain curious. Figuring out the 'why' can help you address the issue more effectively. But no matter the reason, your response should always be the same: consistent. That's how you make rules stick and teach life lessons that'll last a lifetime.

How to Create Family Rules That Actually Work

If you're scratching your head trying to come up with household rules, you're not alone. The solution? Write them down. A written list clears up any "But you never said that!" moments and makes sure everyone—children and adults—knows what's expected.

Other golden rules for rule-making:

Be positive. Frame rules in a positive way. Focus on the do's, not the don'ts: "Keep your room tidy by putting your clothes away" works better than "Don't be messy." And instead of "Don't shout," go with "Use indoor voices inside."

Keep it simple: Make sure your rules are easy to understand. The simpler, the better.

Be specific: Tell your children exactly what you expect. "We say 'please' and 'thank you'" is way clearer than "Be polite."

Involve your children. Getting everyone in the family to help make the rules is a smart move. Even little children, like 3-year-olds, can have ideas about what rules should be. For example, they might say something simple like, "No running inside," which helps keep everyone safe.

As children get older, they can help decide more complicated rules. This is good for two reasons: First, when children help make the rules, they understand why the rules are important. This means they're more likely to follow them. Second, they'll see the rules as fair because they had a part in making them.

For teenagers, being part of this process is even more important. It helps them learn how to be responsible for what they do. This is a big life lesson that will help them when they become adults.

Some Ideas for Family Rules

Creating family rules doesn't have to be complicated. In fact, a shorter list is often better, especially for younger children who might get overwhelmed with too many rules. Here are some straightforward rules that can work for most families:

  • Ask before borrowing someone's stuff.
  • No hitting, pushing, or physical harm.
  • No yelling or name-calling.
  • Knock before entering a closed door.
  • Clean up after yourself.
  • Turn off electronics at (you decide the time).
  • Say sorry if you hurt someone.
  • Keep clean: wash hands, brush teeth, and bathe.

Remember, rules aren't set in stone. As your children grow or things change in your family, like work schedules, it's okay to update the rules. For example, you might let an older child stay up later or change chores if a parent's work hours change.

What to Expect From Children at Different Life Stages

Preschoolers (3-7 Years Old)

At this age, children can understand simple rules, but they're likely to forget them or choose not to follow them. Gentle reminders work well, like saying, "Remember, we sit down when we eat." Safety rules are crucial but don't solely rely on them. For example, you may have a rule like, "Stay away from the road," but you should still keep an eye on your child near the streets.

School-Age Children (8-10 Years Old)

By this age, most children can follow rules without constant supervision. They'll likely remember to brush their teeth before bed or wait for an adult to cross the road. However, occasional reminders can help reinforce these habits when you're not around.


Rules are still important for teens, providing a sense of stability during a time of many changes. Safety rules, like those about alcohol, dating, and curfews, are especially key. Some families even create "safety contracts," which are signed agreements about certain behaviors, like texting parents when using public transport at night. Expect some pushback, as teens seek more freedom. Changing the term from "rules" to "expectations" can make them feel more like they're being guided, not controlled, encouraging better compliance.

Uh-Oh, Your Child Broke the Rules: What Now?

So your child broke a rule. Happens to the best of us, right? Before you jump to remind them of the rule, let's talk about the consequences. It's a good idea to hash this out when you're making the family rules. That way, everyone's on the same page from the get-go. 

A pro tip? Write those rules down and stick them on the fridge. It saves a lot of, "But you never said that!" arguments. For the little ones, you can even draw some cute pictures to illustrate the point.

Natural consequences: The real-world stuff

Sometimes life teaches the best lessons. If your child keeps their room clean, they'll find their favorite toy faster. If they wait their turn during a game, everyone has more fun. But if they refuse to wear a coat, they'll learn quickly how chilly it can get.

Immediate consequences: The time-outs and privilege loss

There are times when you've got to step in right away. Time-outs or taking away a favorite toy can work wonders. And hey, this isn't just for the child. Parents need to show they can keep their cool, too.

Logical consequences: The "You spill it, you wipe it" rule

These are the consequences directly tied to the rule that got broken. Spilled milk? Hand them a towel. Sibling squabbling over a toy? That toy takes a 10-minute timeout. Keep it short and sweet so they can try again soon.

For the younger crowd, like ages 3-6, a quick time-out can give them a moment to think. For older children, taking away something they like, say, turning off their video game because they used bad language, can be super effective.

Three Easy Steps to Make Consequences Stick

  1. Keep your cool. First things first, take a deep breath and stay calm. Trust me, if you're calm, your child is more likely to be too. And that makes it easier for them to think about what they did wrong. If you lose your temper, chances are they will too, and then you're both in a pickle.
  2. Clear instructions, then a chance to make it right. When you catch your children breaking a rule, be clear about what you want them to do instead. Like, "Frankie, it's Jay's turn now, okay?" The only time you skip this step is for big no-nos, like hitting. In that case, it's straight to time-out with a clear reason: "We don't hit in this family."
  3. Follow through, no exceptions. If the rule gets broken again, it's consequence time. Say something like, "Frankie, you didn't share, so you're sitting out this round." children are smart; if they think they can dodge the consequence, they'll try. So stick to your guns.
  4. The do-over. Once the consequence is done, give them another shot to get it right. When they do, heap on the praise. A simple "Awesome job sharing, Frankie! The game's way more fun now," goes a long way.

Tips for Making Consequences Work

  1. Use consequences as a response to behavior. Make sure your child knows the consequence is for a specific action, like hitting, not because they're a 'bad child.' This way, they still feel loved and safe, even when you're laying down the law.
  2. Hold off on consequences for the under-3 crowd. They just don't get it yet and will likely feel it's just plain unfair.
  3. Explain the consequences ahead of time. For example, say "If you don't share, the toys get put away." This way, they're less likely to get mad when it actually happens.
  4. Tailor the consequences to your child's age and abilities. But be consistent; children notice if their siblings get different treatment and it won't sit well with them.
  5. Consistency is key. Always use the same consequence for the same behavior. It might take a few rounds, but they'll catch on faster if you're consistent.
  6. Keep it short and sweet, don't drag it out. A 10-minute TV timeout for fighting over the remote gives them a quick chance to make better choices and earn your praise.
  7. Keep consequences short. Keeping it short means your child doesn’t have to wait long before practicing the right behavior. For example, if you turn off the TV for 10 minutes because children are fighting over the remote control, they quickly get another opportunity to solve the problem in a different way and get praise from you.
  8. Respond early. Don't wait to see if the behavior stops on its own; it might just escalate. Nip it in the bud early on.
  9. The sooner the consequence follows the behavior, the more effective it will be. But if you're fuming, take a breather. Say, "I'm too angry to talk right now. We'll discuss this in a few minutes." 


Family rules are more than just do’s and don’ts, they’re life lessons. They're your blueprint for a respectful and loving home that your children can take with them into the world. When everyone chips in to create the rules, it's a win-win. Your home becomes a more peaceful place, and your children pick up skills they'll use for a lifetime.

Your secret weapons? Consistency in how you enforce rules and make sure everyone has a say in creating them. Keep that list of rules short and sweet so everyone can actually remember them. The result? A home that's not just happier, but more harmonious.

Additionally, stay calm, be clear, and follow through.

This is your go-to formula for making consequences stick and teaching those all-important life lessons. Make sure the consequences are clear, make sense, and are agreed upon by everyone.

Finally, stick to these guidelines. You're not just enforcing rules; you're equipping your children with values.

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More About Rules and How To Enforce Them

How to Enforce Rules. Informed Families. https://www.informedfamilies.org/catalyst/how-to-enforce-family-rules

A Sample of Household Rules. Very Well Mind. https://www.verywellfamily.com/examples-of-household-rules-for-the-entire-family-1094879

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