10 Tips for Establishing Household Rules

Create household rules that make your expectations clear.

Create a list of household rules for everyone in the family to follow.
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Most families have “unofficial rules” that they follow, like "put your dishes in the sink after dinner." But, few parents create a list of official household rules.

If you don't have a list of household rules, consider creating a written list. Outlining your expectations reduces behavior problems and increase discipline consistency.

Here are 10 tips for establishing your household rules:

1. Use a Positive Spin

Try to word the rules in a positive way when possible. Say, “Use respectful language," instead of "No swearing.”

Just make sure you have a conversation with your child about what constitutes respectful language so your child understands what the rule means.

You may need to provide a few of the "don'ts" as a way to explain your rule. If you have a rule that says, "Use gentle touches with the pets,” you may need to clarify that means, “Don’t hit, don’t pull the cat's tail, and don't squeeze the animals.”

2. 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 it to the list. Otherwise, you'll send the message that the items on the list are suggestions, as opposed to rules.

3. Provide Consequences 

Kids need consequences to help them make better choices the next time. Appropriate consequences for breaking the rules may include things such as time out, loss of privileges or restitution.

Explain the negative consequences for breaking the rules ahead of time and your kids will be less likely to test the limits just to see what happens. 

4. 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 he's a teenager. Adjust your household rules as your family grows and changes. 

5. Allow Your Children to Offer Input

Ultimately, the list of your rules are up to you, but your child will be more motivated to follow the rules when he feels like he's had an opportunity to offer some input. Your child may come up with new ideas and things you hadn't even though of including, so have an open mind. 

6. Be a Good Role Model

Your household rules should be rules that that everyone 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.

7. 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.

8. Provide a Short Explanation for 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."

9. Leave Off the Person-Specific Rules

Each child will need his own rules about bedtime, chores, or specific behavior problems. Don't include those on the household rules. Instead, make your household rules a general list that you expect everyone in the house to follow—including guests. 

10. 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.

When visitors to come to your home, like a child coming over for a playdate, you might invite your child to familiarize his guest with the rules. That way other kids will understand that you don't allow jumping on the furniture or that it's really important to use inside voices when visiting your home. 


Knorr C. How to Set Screen Rules That Stick. Common Sense Media: Ratings, reviews, and advice. Published September 17, 2012. ​

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.

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