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Family Rules: 4 Reasons They Work and Tips to Create Them for Your Family

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by: Amy Churchill, MS Licensed Professional Counselor

iStock_000008737101SmallDo you have a known set of family rules? Are your kids aware of what they can and cannot do, as well as what consequences will be given for unacceptable behaviors? Having a set of explained rules can greatly improve family functioning. Here are 4 reasons family rules work:

  1. Family rules create consistency between parents. Creating a set of family rules helps parents portray the always-desirable-but-difficult-to-maintain “united front.” Explained rules and consequences set in advance allow parents to be on the same page. These rules help parents deliver similar and consistent responses to children’s behavior.
  2. Family rules negate opportunities for emotional responses. Having preset family rules lessens the chances of parents giving in vivo punishments. When parents discover an unacceptable behavior, they initially are likely to respond emotionally and give excessive (“you’re grounded for life!”) and unreasonable (“I’m throwing all your toys away!”) punishments. These can’t realistically be followed through on, and when there is lack of follow through with consequences, it sends the indirect message to kids. It tells children “You won’t really be punished for your behavior” or “mom or dad will eventually give in.” Having preset consequences helps parents not to punish based on their own emotional responses.
  3. Family rules allow for expectation management. With rules in place, children know what to expect and can make informed decisions about their behavior knowing what consequences will follow. Let’s face it; parents can hate giving punishments as much as kids hate receiving them. Preset family rules prevent kids from being surprised when delivered a consequence, therefore lessening the possibility of a control battle. The conversation can be quicker, more direct, less emotional and backed up with, “You knew this to begin with.”
  4. Family rules create boundary reinforcement. Family rules reinforce the healthy boundary between child and parent. Family rules remind kids that no matter how old, smart or mature they are (or think they are), the parents are in control. Despite children’s and teen’s frequent protests, having a clear boundary of parental control is actually what kids crave. It helps create a safe and trusting relationship within the family environment. Without this appropriate boundary, chaos and inconsistency often ensue. This can lead to anxiety, defiance, or low self-esteem.

How do you go about setting up the family rules? I suggest that parents make the rules together and with the stated goal of “how can we best help the kids succeed with these rules?”

Some tips to creating successful family rules:
– Make them easy to explain and easy to understand (therefore easier to follow)
– Make the rules as simple as possible (this acts against kids finding loopholes in the rules)
– Make them specific to your family (because it doesn’t matter what other families do)
– Make sure parents are united on the rules as well as the consequences
– Continue to remind children and teens of the family rules (have rules posted on the fridge, in the children’s rooms or somewhere they can be easily seen)
– Make sure to praise successes in following the rules. Don’t only punish when rules are broken (this reinforces the following of the rules and provides a way for the kids to get positive attention)

I am confident if you follow these guidelines and maintain them consistently there can be a noticeable improvement in your home. Good luck!