How to Make House Rules that Stick

How to Make House Rules that Stick

Are you a harrowed parent at your wit's end trying hard to discipline your child? While a lot has been written about disciplining children and establishing order at home, it is a universal problem to make house rules that stick. Let's try to arrive at some ground rules for setting the right rules.
It is noteworthy that the digital age has simplified lives beyond description and made the world a smaller place; however, it is also a great distraction to kids and adults alike. If rules were an important part of child discipline from the ancient times, in today's digital age, they have become quite a necessity. But then there's this other thing about rules, making them stick!

Being Objective and Rational about Setting Rules
It is human psychology (perhaps curiosity of what the consequences will be) to wonder what happens if we do something we're not supposed to. The first thing that comes to a child's mind when you instruct them not to do something is, "why not?"! Why is it forbidden, what is the big deal? Remember this basic psychology while setting house rules, especially for kids. Any prohibition without explaining the reasons behind it will only lead to building up of the curiosity and eventually flouting the rule. Allay the suspense about the consequences of flouting the rules. Explain why the rule exists in the first place. The child needs to see the consequence as a result of his/her own actions.

Strategy to Build House Rules
Now let us build out a strategy for coming up with clear and unambiguous rules that will stick. At the core of this strategy should be the objective, that house rules must be meant to promote togetherness and an atmosphere of peace and order. From a discipline standpoint, rules should serve more as standards and not punishments. The idea behind setting any rule must be to encourage children to develop a sense of responsibility. Children need to make sense of the rules such that they follow it on their own, even when you're not watching. Rules should NOT serve as virtual leashes to hold back children from anything! If you do that, the harder you pull the leash, Newton's law of motion will ensure an equal but opposite reaction.
  • The Fewer, the Better: Refrain from writing a rule book. You know what happens to those books, they're pretty useless unless you're arguing in a court of law or running a redemption center for convicted felons. Having a rule in place for every imaginable circumstance in the house, is a recipe for disaster. Keep them simple and more importantly, keep them few. Keep in mind your child's maturity level and the values you want to pass on to him/her as the foundation for your rules. If you're a single parent, or living with a partner who's not related to the kids (stepfather or stepmother), if the kid has siblings or if he/she has special needs, all these "special" situations will make your rules unique to your family. Select the most important matters to make rules about.
  • Get Rid of "Because I said so" and "For your own good": If you want your kids to stick to the rules, involve them in setting them up. Yes, let's leave babies and toddlers out of this of course, but as soon as children begin to understand things around them, make them participate in the discussion about setting up rules. If you have allotted an hour every day for watching television, explain to the child why you think it's a proper duration. Tell them what they'd have to do for the rest of the time. Allotting time for homework, playing with friends, etc., must be done with the child's participation. This will not only make the child familiar with the rules but also make them aware that you're taking into consideration his/her needs. A participative process will automatically lead the child to think that he/she has a say in your scheme of things. You can also explain the need to have a particular rule and the consequences of flouting the rule, during this discussion. The rules will then become more effective.
  • Write it Down, Put it Up, Stick it On: Once the list of rules (as small a list as possible) is ready, make an artwork out of it and ensure that the kids get to see it easily while going about the house. Enlisting their help in making a poster out of it or hanging it up behind the door to their room will convey the "fun element" about rules while clearly communicating the seriousness about sticking to them. Revise or revisit the rules whenever needed, not very frequently though. After a few months, when you see that the kids are taking to certain rules quite easily and without supervision, you may compliment them for it and remove that rule from the list. You just need to emphasize that while you're proud that the rule needs no reminding, it is still an unwritten rule. These actions will enable the kids to place you in their circle of trust and they're more likely to continue following the rules without constant supervision.
  • Do Not Underestimate the Power of Positive Reinforcement: Has it ever happened that you have been driving your car safely for several years without breaking any laws and the one fateful day that things go wrong and you inadvertently make that small error, you're pulled up and treated like a regular offender? You would perhaps say to yourself, "so much for not making a single mistake all these years!". How great it would be if someone lauded us for sticking to the rules just as enthusiastically as they would punish the act of flouting. Well, while that may or may not happen with traffic rules, at home you can be the harbinger of change. Observe your kid's good behavior as intently as you look for goof ups. Recognize their efforts at regularly sticking to the rules. Be generous in advertising their good behavior in front of your spouse and/or other relatives.
  • Set an Example, Watch Yourself: It is a common occurrence that parents who set rules about obedience and respect openly misbehave with their own elderly parents or even strangers. Children exposed to such ambiguity have no second thoughts about flouting the rules. If you have a rule about not shouting or yelling stuck on your child's study room soft board, you need to ensure that some errant driver sliding into your lane while driving does not make your child witness your nasty road rage. If you're inconsistent in your own behavior, be prepared for a power struggle, especially with preteens and teenaged children.
  • Teach your Child that Freedom Comes with Responsibility: Enforcement of rules is possible only if there are distinct consequences to flouting them. Ensure that your kids understand that the consequence is the price they have to pay for flouting the rules. Do not position the consequence as a "punishment". Keeping the rules positive means, not following the rule will result in a minor or major inconvenience. Just like you'd get a speeding ticket for speeding over limits in traffic, let the consequences be clear and non-violent but adequately inconvenient to the kid. Ensure to communicate the consequences well in advance and start with warnings before strictly enforcing the rules. Everyone needs a "warm up". Remove "harshness" or "negativity" as much as possible. Also, tone down or tone up the inconveniences based on the kids' reactions to them. Ensure that none of your consequences for flouting the rules border on abusive parenting. For example, take off that rule that says - "if you don't get home by 11 at night, make arrangements to stay elsewhere until morning". For younger kids, do not have a rule that says; "if they don't eat their vegetables, they'll have to stay hungry". There can be no positive learning from these kinds of flaming threats. Let helping with minor household chores or cleaning up their own room, etc., serve as consequences for disobeying rules.
Some Best Practices
A lot of young kids understand better when rules are laid out in a "Dos and Don'ts" fashion. Be tuned in to your kid's reactions to the rules and consequences. If the kid is unable to make sense of the rules or thinks that the consequences are unfair, have a discussion with him/her without being condescending. If you have more than one kid around the house, make sure that most of your rules stay the same for all of them. If you have a teenaged kid with a curfew limitation that exceeds the younger child, explain why it is so. The aim of having rules is to promote harmony within the family, nobody should feel left out. Trust your kid and do not indulge in excessive monitoring of his/her activities. Don't come across as someone who's waiting for the kid to make a mistake! Don't keep on nagging the kid and reminding the rules at all times. Avoid never-ending, unachievable consequences, don't make the situation hopeless for the child. Another common mistake parents often tend to make is to hold a lasting grudge for certain actions by the child; for example, giving the child the silent treatment lasting several weeks for an act of misbehavior that occurred some time in the past. This is highly ineffective in correcting the misbehavior. Make sure that the result corresponds to the act of flouting the rule. Don't blanket the consequence over everything else that the child does!

The key to making rules work is constant positive reinforcement and ensuring that the child is not left alone to deal with the harsh consequences of his/her actions. The aim of having rules is to steer the child towards self-discipline and civil behavior. Teaching the child to behave within the domain of reasonable boundaries needs patient effort. Establishing rules can be very helpful in the process of disciplining children. However, as with all fruits of labor, this one will be sweet and worth all the trouble. With these tips, I hope you can coach your child to become a responsible and independent human being.
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