Establish Rules That Will Help Your Child Become a Responsible Adult (2023)

While your sister might allow her kids to jump on the furniture, you might decide that's not OK in your house. Or maybe the kids are allowed to bang on the pots and pans in your kitchen but in Grandma's house, that's a no-no.

It's important to create a clear set of household rules so your children know what's allowed and what type of behavior is off-limits. Establishing clear rules is a simple way to reduce behavior problems and increase consistency with your discipline.

Kids need enough rules to feel safe and secure. But, if you give them too many rules, you mightstifle theirdevelopment.

Regardless of how old your children are or how many children you have, there are five types of rules all kids need.

1. Rules That Promote Safety

Safety rules include physical safety and emotional safety. When kids feel safe, they are free to focus their energy on exploring their talents and their environment.

Physical safety might address things like:

  • "Don’t answer the door when Mom’s in the shower."
  • "Sit on the furniture only (no standing or jumping)."

Emotional safety may include household rules like:

  • "Everyone can share their feelings as long as they show respect."
  • "Use kind words only."

2. Rules That Promote Morality

Create rules that instillvalues and morals in your children. These types of rules may include things like:

  • "Apologize when you're sorry."
  • "Don't hurt others."
  • "Tell the truth."
  • "Treat others fairly."

Of course, it's essential that you also model these rules. Your children will learn more from what you do, rather than what you say.

3. Rules That Develop Healthy Habits

Kids do best when they have routine and structure. So, create rules that encourage your child to develop daily habits. For example:

  • "Brush your teeth after breakfast."
  • "Put your dirty clothes in the hamper."

Creating healthy habits and routines helps reduce power struggles.

When kids know that they are supposed to hang their coat up when they come home from school or that they’re supposed to do homework right after dinner, it can reduce a lot of arguing as long as there are clear consequences for misbehavior.

4. Rules That Promote Social Skills

Kids also need rules that teach them social skills. This includes how to behave with family members as well as peers. Examples of rules that teachappropriate ways to interact with others:

  • "Share your toys with your brother."
  • "Take turns while playing the game."

Older kids may need rules about their electronics. Establish rules that limit your child's smartphone and computer use and rules that encourage appropriate etiquette. For example, make the dinner table a "phone-free zone" and don't allow your child to sleep with a smartphone in their room.

5. Rules to Prepare for the Real World

Kids also need rules that will help prepare them for becoming adults. Establish rules that teach life skillsthat will help them function better once they leave home. The exact rules and help your child will need to develop these skills will depend largely on your child’s temperament.

Some kids are just more likely to behave responsibly and stay motivated with their school work, while other kids need extra rules to support them.

For example, setting rules about chores and money helps prepare kids for the working environment. Provide kids with chores and the opportunity to earn an allowance. Then, teach them about money so they can learn how to save and spend money wisely so they are better prepared for paying their own bills as adults.

Tips for Creating Your List of Household Rules

Create a formal list of written household rules. Cover the major rules that you think are the most important. For example, if keeping an orderly house is especially important to you, a rule might be "Pick up after yourself" or "Make your bed each morning."

Here are some strategies that will make your rules most effective:

  • Allow the kids to offer input. Ultimately, your household rules are up to you, but your child will be more motivated to follow the rules when they feel like they've had an opportunity to offer some input.Have an open mind—your child may come up with new ideas and things you hadn't even thought of!
  • Be a good role model. Your household rules should be rules thateveryone follows—including you. So don't include rules you don't plan to follow. If a rule at your house is to tell the truth, don’t say your 13-year-old is only 12 just to get a cheaper movie ticket.
  • Be prepared to enforce the rules. If you're going to include a rule on the list, be prepared to enforce it. If you're not really going to address issues like swearing or not making the bed, don't add them to the list. Otherwise, you'll send the message that the items on the list are suggestions, as opposed to rules.
  • Explain exceptions to the rules.Whether it's a holiday or a special circumstance that causes you to break the rules, explain the reasons you're breaking the rules to your children. Let them know you are willing to make exceptions to the rules sometimes.
  • Own your mistakes. Even adults break the rules sometimes. But if you try to downplay your behavior or make excuses, your kids will do the same when they break the rules. So if you say a swear word or you tell a lie, take full responsibility for your behavior.
  • Post your list of rules. Hang up your list of written rules in an area where everyone can see them, like on the refrigerator. Just make sure the list isn't too long or too complicated—you don't want it to become more like a policy manual rather than a list of household rules.
  • Provide a short explanation of the rules. Kids will be much more likely to see the importance of a rule if they understand the reasoning behind the rule. So explain, "We walk in the house because there isn't enough room to run around and someone might get hurt."
  • Provideconsequences for broken rules. Kids need consequences to help them make better choices the next time. Appropriate consequences for breaking the rules may include things such asloss of privileges orrestitution.
  • Review the rules often. The rules you needed when your child was a preschooler are going to be much different from the rules you need when they're a teenager. Adjust your household rules as your family grows and changes.
  • Use a positive spin. Try to word the rules in a positive way when possible. For example, you may say, "Use respectful language," instead of "Noswearing."

A Sample of Family Household Rules

6 Sources

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Steps in Creating Family Rules.

  2. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Board on Children, Youth, and Families; Committee on Supporting the Parents of Young Children; Breiner H, Ford M, Gadsden VL, editors. Parenting Matters: Supporting Parents of Children Ages 0-8. Washington (DC):National Academies Press (US); 2016 Nov 21.

  3. Ablewhite J, McDaid L, Hawkins A, et al. Approaches used by parents to keep their children safe at home: A qualitative study to explore the perspectives of parents with children aged under five years.BMC Public Health. 2015;15:983. doi:10.1186/s12889-015-2252-x

  4. Centers for Disease and Prevention. Creating Structure and Rules.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Building Blocks of Structure.

  6. Bjelland M, Soenens B, Bere E, et al. Associations between parental rules, style of communication and children's screen time.BMC Public Health. 2015;15:1002. doi:10.1186/s12889-015-2337-6

Additional Reading

  • Webster-Stratton C.The Incredible Years: parents, teachers, and children's training series: program content, methods, research and dissemination 1980-2011. Seattle, WA: Incredible Years; 2011.

Establish Rules That Will Help Your Child Become a Responsible Adult (1)

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.

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