How to Create Household Rules for Kids

Create clear expectations and consequences

Create a clear list of household rules.
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While your neighbor 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. 

Why You Need to Establish the Rules

A list of household rules helps kids understand how rules differ in different environments. For example, it may be acceptable to yell at the playground but that's not OK to yell in your office. Establishing written rules teaches kids your expectations.

A written set of rules can also help ensure that all the caregivers are on the same page. Whether you hire a babysitter or Grandma comes over for a visit, everyone will know your expectations when the rules are clearly posted on the fridge.

Rules can also be a reminder for adults who are trying to model positive behaviors for the kids. If the rule states that everyone must pick up their dishes, you'll be more likely to do so when it's written on your liste of household rules.

Written rules also give kids an opportunity to remind one another of the rules. A child might say to a friend who comes over for a play date, “At my house we’re not allowed to jump on the couch.” Kids who understand the rules will want to make sure they're followed.

Strategies to Make Your Rules Effective

Sit down and think about what types of rules you want to create for your household. Then, follow these guidelines to make your rules most effective:

  • Write down your list of rules and hang them in a prominent location. This will serve as an excellent reminder to everyone to follow the rules. 
  • Try to limit your list to the 10 most important rules. You don't want a 100 page policy manual that outlines every possible infraction. 
  • Word the rules positively if you can. Instead of saying, “Don’t throw your clothes on the floor,” try using, “Place your dirty clothes in the hamper.” Make a list of what “to do” instead of “what not to do."
  • Get the kids involved in making the rules. Ask their opinion about what sorts of things they think are important when creating the rules and try to include some of their ideas. It can help get kids more invested in following the 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.

Establish Positive and Negative Consequences

When kids follow the rules, there should be positive consequences. For example, praise your child for following the rules. Say something like, "Thank you for putting your dishes in the sink. You do a great job at following that rule." 

You might also consider using rewards as an incentive. Tie your child's privileges directly to willingness to follow the rules. Let him use his electronics after dinner if he's followed the rules since he got home from school, for example. 

Establish a negative consequence that will deter him from breaking the rule again. Negative consequences may include things such as loss of privileges or a time-out.

When possible, warn your child about the consequences ahead of time. And if he violates the rules, make it clear that he can choose to do better next time.

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