“House Rules” That Rule!
I received many questions from parents about how to establish rules that really stick. Many parents struggle with daily life whether repeatedly fine-tune the rules and struggle with their children who don’t appear to honor the rules in place. This occurs because they make several critical errors.
In this article, I will outline the critical errors and the corrections that will keep you on track.
Critical Mistake One: Too Many Rules.
The more rules you have in your home, the more violations of the rules that will occur. The more violations, the more frequently you have to end up managing your children’s behavior. This leads to constant intervention and decisions making about consequences. If you have a difficult or strong-willed child, this will mean that you are frequently adding consequence upon consequence. And the environment begins to feel very punitive and negative.
Solution: Have Just a Few Essential Rules.
Rather than dozens of rules, focus on the critical rules that will maintain structure and routine. If you understand how to manage behaviors using the leverage that you possess in your home, this is not too difficult to do. In fact, it is easier to manage your home and maintain order and sanity with just a few decisive rules than it is when you have lots of rules that you can’t keep up with.
Critical Mistakes Two: Setting Rules That We Don’t Follow. This is one of the biggest mistakes that we make. We establish guidelines for our children and then we violate them repeatedly. For example, we might set a rule that there is no disrespectful talk in our home. Yet when our children are not listening, we are willing to compromise that rule for ourselves and we yell with an ugly voice to our children. We may not think of this as disrespect, but if we have a video camera sitting on our child’s forehead and we play it back for the world to see, I suspect that it would appear quite disrespectful. Another common example would be a rule that says we don’t eat in front of the TV. Yet our children repeatedly find us gleefully chopping down a late-night snack in front of the Letterman show. That we pretend that this won’t matter. We tell the children they are getting pudgy and so we limit their snack. Yet they see us failing to exercise and putting on the pounds while we eat chips and ice cream during the ball game. We can all pretend that these little thing doesn’t matter. It does matter.
Solution: We Walk Our Talk.
If we set a rule, then we have to be willing to follow it with ourselves. There are certain rules that apply to children that don’t apply to adults. Many of these are built-in of every fabric and structure of our lives. And as children see it repeatedly over and over, these are not problematic because like it or not they reflect reality. The problem occurs in more of the ongoing day-to-day routines where we expect our children to do one thing and we do another. It’s just hard to keep a household going in a peaceful loving way when we set up our lives in this manner.
Critical Mistake Three: Setting Rules That Do Not Reflect Reality. I find that every parent has a positive intention behind their rules. However, many of these rules do not reflect the reality we live in. And thus, often waste both parent and child energy. For example, we can waste extraordinary amounts of energy by focusing on rules that are arbitrary and have no real-life parallel. Examples could be at our home, you don’t eat with your elbows on the table or you must put away your shoes first and then you can hang up your coat.
Solution: Have Reality-based Rules. You can’t eat unless you wash your hands. Learning to wash our hands before eating tends to be supportive of health. Good rule! You lose it if you throw it inside. Good rule! It preserves what we care about. You repair it or replace it if you have a tantrum and break it. Good rule! Again, it parallels what happens in the real world. The more we can stick with reality, the more we establish rules that are really
make sense and more importantly reality-based rules prepare our children for the future.
Remember: Keep it simple, minimize the number of rules, walk your talk, and keep focused on rules that reflect reality.