Without rules, children cannot know what is expected of them. Parents establish household rules for a number of reasons – to assure the safety of family members, to help things run smoothly, and to teach their children how to behave in ways that are beneficial to their overall development.
Establishing Basic Rules
Most parents wish to teach their children how to get along well in the world, helping them to develop to their highest potential while learning to interact positively with other people. Social skills begin at home, as does self-control and a sense of responsibility, all things that can benefit from having a start that includes well thought out rules. The most basic rules never need changing and will take children from infancy through their teenage years and beyond.
Children need to be taught that they are answerable for their actions and that they have a responsibility to look out for others while they make their way in the world. Rules that require a basic respect for self and others are the cornerstones of early childhood, with more detailed rules stemming from those basics as children mature.
While every family must decide on specific rules for themselves, there are some basics that are likely to benefit most:
- No hitting, pushing, kicking, or other physically harmful behaviours.
- Teasing and bullying type behaviours are prohibited.
- Family members should ask before borrowing something that doesn’t belong to them and should be sure to return the item as promised and in good condition.
- Sharing and taking turns are mandatory for items that belong to everyone.
- Disagreements must be worked out in a respectful manner. No yelling or name calling.
As children mature, specific rules must be established to cover their growing independence. While very young children are always under the direct supervision of their parents or other trusted carers, by the time that they are school aged, kids spend some of their time with peers, and parents must establish rules to govern their behaviour when they are on their own. Same rules are in place for safety reasons, such as requiring that children be transported only in vehicles equipped with proper safety seats and that they never talk to strangers, while other rules are implemented in order to encourage children to live up to their responsibilities. Guidelines about household chores, healthful eating, and the timely completion of schoolwork are all put into place to help kids learn self-discipline.
As kids enter their adolescent years, additional rules regarding curfews, smoking, drinking, drug use, and driving privileges are needed to provide teens with guidelines meant to help them safely manoeuvre through what can be rather turbulent years. Teenagers today are faced with many tough decisions and parents can help them to make good choices by providing a set of rules that both generations can live with. Studies show that teens often appreciate the rules that their parents set (although they would never admit to that!) because it can give them the ability to avoid participating in certain activities while placing the blame on their parents, rather than admitting to their peers that they do not want to engage in risky behaviours. “I’d love to, but my Mum and Dad would kill me. You know how they are.”
Presenting a United Front
Ideally, parents should work to establish household rules that both are comfortable with implementing, as well as consequences for disobedience that both can see themselves following through with. Children are quick studies and will certainly figure out if they are able to avoid following the rules by playing one parent’s wishes against the other’s. While this is important in all families, it is especially vital when the parents are divorced since it can make it that much easier for kids to feel that they may be able to misbehave without fear of consequences.