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Family Rules

Just as societies have laws that regulate behavior and "mores" (morals and values) that dictate social behavior, families have similar laws and mores, or rules and values. Just as anyone would be subject to social sanctions like fines and imprisonment if they violated the law, kids need to understand there are consequences for violating family rules.

The Rules

No rule should be arbitrary. Preschoolers and kindergartners are definitely able to understand the rules and follow them assuming they are clearly defined. The rules should apply to everyone (no yelling, no hitting, no bad language), even mom and dad. Family rules should define personal limits and should reflect the values that are most important to the family – the values that you want to teach your child. Be sure to involve your child and have them help come up with some of the rules.

Keeping Rules Simple for Kids

Having a long list of rules is counterproductive. Too many rules are hard for young children to remember. Keep the list of rules short and simple for now. You can expand them as your child grows.

Reinforce and Model

It's important for parents to model good behavior and reward kids for their own good behavior. Rewards don't have to be tangible; a "good job" is almost always enough. Remember that if you don't model your own adherence to the rules, you'll be telling your children that those rules, and the values that accompany them, are not as important as you'd like them to believe.

Make a Behavior Chart

Does your child need help remembering the rules? Write them down and proudly display them. As a family, get together at the table and make a poster that clearly lists the rules. Talk about what happens when the rules aren't followed. Remember to talk about clear and consistent consequences that apply to everyone. A point and reward system is a great way to make improving their behavior fun. All young children are going to forget the rules every now and then. When your child gets out of hand, remind him of the rules and what will happen if he violates them. Give only one warning before initiating the consequences (time out, etc.). Apply the family rules evenly and fairly to everyone in the family. If you have a child that is still having trouble, remember that children respond well to visual representations of their success. Make a family rules chart and use stickers and checks to mark off good behavior. After a set amount of "good jobs," reward your child with a small treat such as a trip to the park or another family outing like a Saturday matinee.

Since family rules are all about working together as a family, the rewards should reflect family values and be shared by the entire family.