I love a full house—the constant running around of kids, temporary squabbles between siblings, the loud laughter and the works. Having children is an amazing and fulfilling experience but nurturing these gentle souls to grow up into responsible, well-adjusted adults is not an easy role to fulfil. As a parent, it is natural that we sometimes feel like giving into the ‘innocent’ demands of the little ones, but there have to be boundaries and rules. This calls for establishing house rules and set regulations to keep children safe, teach them values, as well as maintain peace and harmony at home.
Experts believe that sooner you set certain house rules, the better it is (even though you may feel that the child is too small to follow any.) Setting house rules can have a tremendous impact on a child’s wellbeing, including:
- Providing physical and emotional safety
- Developing healthy habits
- Promoting moral development
- Maintaining harmony and peace in the family
- Preparing your child for the real world in time
- Improving social skills
But then we can’t have one rule for all the kids across ages. Let’s try and figure out how, what, and which rules you can initiate in your house. This will include:
- Rules that can be common for the whole family
- Various rules to set for different age groups starting from 0 to 24 months and above
- 21 rules your child must follow and finally,
- Consequences both in the form of reward and punishment
Common Rules for the Whole Family
To make sure that kids adhere to the set rules, uniformity and consistency is key. Barring exceptions, make a few rules that can be followed by each member of the family. If the child is too small, you may need to assist her in implementing the rule, but older children should be taught to follow it on their own.
- Having meals together: This will not only strengthen the bond between the family members but also open channels of communication—a very vital requirement with kids at home. Make meal time should be a time to talk and share.
- No phones/i-pads/tablets on the dining table: Limiting screen-time will initiate conversations and let children enjoy their food.
- Respectful language and manners: Parents have to take the lead in this and children will follow soon. Make your family a ‘no-bad-language’ family and ensure that it is followed.
There can be many more rules that can be set as family rules, but they will need to be talked about and discussed in your household.
For smaller kids,
0 to 12 months
At this age, parents and the other family members have to ensure rules are followed for the benefit of the baby.
- Keep loud noises down, speak softly when around the baby, don’t take the baby out if the weather is bad, avoid sitting close to TV, avoid using tablet or phone when you are carrying the baby. Use “eye-care mode” if you need to. Do not let strangers or distant family relatives hold the baby for long. Make sure your hands are clean or sanitised before holding the baby.
- Also, divide the baby care duties between the parents to maintain a healthy relationship.
As the baby grows and starts to crawl, you will find that he is curious about everything and will probably try and be familiar with new objects by putting it in his mouth. You have to be extra careful here as sometimes they may end up eating detergent and cleaners if left unattended.
- Make a rule that only soft toys, or toys with smooth rounded edges and without small parts have to be given to the baby to play as they can accidentally swallow or bite solid toys and hurt themselves.
- Each family has that one person who thinks that he/she knows what is best for the baby, and though as much as the intention is appreciated, make a rule that the baby will not be fed or treated in a way that is not in lieu with the doctors advise.
Boundaries and rules for children are not meant to rein them in; but rather to help them grow up healthy! — Gail Innis, Michigan State University Extension
12 to 24 months
Your kid is a toddler now and also at the naughtiest phase of childhood. This is the time when he explores the world and starts to learn basic rules and understand what is acceptable and what is not. At this age, while talking to him,
- Make a rule to control any negative emotions like anger that you maybe experiencing and tell him what you want him to do, in a sweet voice. Do not raise your voice, otherwise, he will not pay attention to your words and will only get threatened by your anger.
- Use words carefully when you have to reprimand him. Make it a rule that no derogatory language or words with negative connotations will be used with the toddler or in her presence.
- Make it a rule that he will not to touch the electric board.
- Make her understand that she needs to stay away from sharp objects as she can accidentally cut herself and bleed. Make her understand the consequences.
24 months and above
At this age, your kid has learnt a lot of words and loves to talk non stop. He has also developed excellent motor skills and is always searching for a way to display that energy. Running, jumping, playing make-believe games has become a part of his life. This is when communication is fluid, and the consequences understood. Establish the rules properly, along with punishment.
- Never spank your kid no matter how annoying his acts are. Instead, give him time-outs, cut down his playing or TV schedule; instead of negative reinforcement, deny him something he loves as a punishment.
- Have a rule around small kids to help in easy household chores. Ask him to help you out so you can monitor him. Also, engage him in conversation and teach him the importance of what you are doing.
- Make a schedule. Now, this is going to fail many times but you have to keep it up. Make a routine so it will create a habit and give the child a sense of stability. Be extremely particular about the playtime.
Now that your kid’s cognitive skills are growing and he understands more by mirroring, you should start watching your behaviour around your kid. Children learn way more by watching their parents than listening to what is being demanded.
- In the presence of your kid, each family member must follow the rule of controlling their tempers and being mature about the issue at hand.
Take Opinion While Setting Rules
Children will respect and obey the rules better if they know why they exist. Ask your kid to sit with you when you are jotting the rules down. Initiate each rule with a story. For example, “Aman is a good kid but one day, he decided to go out at night all by himself, knowing that he is breaking a rule mommy and daddy told him not to. Then he started roaming at night on streets thinking that nothing bad is ever going to happen to him, but one day he got kidnapped by bad people and they hurt him a lot. He could not defend himself because he was not as strong as the bad guys. This is why rules like not going out at night alone should be followed. Parents set them to protect their kids until they grow up and become strong enough to defend themselves.” Such kind of explanations builds trust in children and increases their chances of adherence.
Here are some prevalent and necessary house rules every parent should teach and make their kids follow
- I am part of a family and I will always confide and remain close to my family. Mom and dad take care of things and I should respect their decision.
- I will respect everyone who lives in our family.
- I will not open the door if a stranger is outside even if they say that mother or father has sent them or called for them. If such a thing happens, I will call my parents immediately if alone at home. I will always use the magic eye to see who is standing on the other side.
- I will follow the diktats of “Good Touch, Bad Touch” along and myself will not touch others’ private parts.
- I will share more.
- I will not go out alone at night.
- No matter who says what, I will always remember that I can’t fly. So, I will maintain a safe distance from heights.
- I will always tell the truth. Even if I do something wrong, telling the truth is my best option.
- I will help mom, dad clean up. If I pick something up, I will return it to its place once I’m done with it. The list starts from picking up toys, placing my dresses back in the wardrobe after changing, leaving the dishes in the sink after a meal or placing the shoes and socks on the rack.
- When I feel angry, sad, frustrated, I will share my feelings with my mom and dad in the most appropriate manner. I will confide in them without the drama and listen to their suggestions.
- I will not take something that belongs to someone else without asking the person and then will return it once I am done.
- While playing, I must not cross the safe area in the neighbourhood that my parents have mentioned.
- If someone loves me “too much,” I will tell my mom about him/her and what conversation or activity they like to do with me. Remember, sexual abuse can completely change a kid’s personality.
- I will behave lovingly and respectfully towards animals and plants and my environment. Sensitise your kid about animals and their needs.
Now, there is not a single parent who has not set rules for her children and have them broken. For that, punishments are decided. Learn about operant conditioning as much as you can. To break it down, “Reward for good behaviour and punish for bad behaviour.” The latter is followed in Indian parenting system but rewarding good behaviour is often forgotten, which is a huge mistake. The only reward Indian parents propose is once a year, depending on how their children perform academically. This is not appropriate. You want to raise a kid better than that.
- Reward them for good behaviour; for putting bottles in the fridge, for helping a friend, for finishing the healthy meal they immensely dislike. Reward them with compliments too. Acknowledge their efforts even if they fail. Such behaviour will create an intense, meaningful relationship with you and they will respect and love you more for it.
Kids can be hard to control when they are in an energetic mood and rewards will not always tempt them. In times like these, punishments are useful.
- Decide a Time-Out zone where the kid will have to stand still doing nothing but staring at the wall. Inactivity tires children. In some cases, the kid will deny to cooperate with the punishment; at such time, warn them by taking their favourite thing away. It can be a toy or TV time… or using cellphones! Disciplining your kid this way can work wonder yet removes any possibility of scarring him psychologically. Remember, do not use beating as a short cut to get your work done. It has long term consequences.
Few rules you should follow to enforce house rules:
- Be consistent with the consequences. When your child disobeys a rule, make sure he experiences the same consequence. If “not allowed to watch TV for three days” is the consequence of lying, make it effective every time he lies.
- Make a list of the rules and paste it somewhere that everyone can see. Make the list clear and simple.
- Follow the rules yourself.
- Explain the rules and why are they set. If your child has a clear idea why he is to follow one, it would be easier for him to do so.
- Lead a disciplined life yourself to raise a disciplined kid. Your child will easily pick your own approach towards life than following your instructions. If you want to your child to eat bitter gourd, eat it yourself, happily during meal times.
- If you fail to follow any rule, do not make excuses; take ownership of it and declare that you’ll try your best in following it in future. Otherwise your kid will start giving excuses for breaking rules as well.
- When correcting your child’s behaviour, use a positive statement. Instead of saying,“Don’t shout,” ask him to “speak softly.”
- Review the rules and update if necessary. As your child grows, you need to modify your house rules accordingly. For example, you may expand the boundary of your kid’s play area if you feel comfortable.
Each family has to define their own house rules as per their requirements. So what are the rules in your family? Share with us in the comments section.