Creating Family Rules

Have you ever played a game where you weren’t really sure of the rules? It’s hard to have fun or feel confident when you’re never really sure if you’re doing something wrong. As a kid, being a part of a family can feel the same way. If children aren’t sure of what will get them in trouble or what isn’t allowed, they probably feel perpetually unsure of what’s expected of them. 

This article talks about the importance of creating rules as a family, what kinds of rules you should consider, and how enshrining certain values into your family rules can prepare your kids for the future.  

Achieving Family Agreement

No one likes it when rules are decided for them, and kids are no exception. Very few times in their lives do they get to help decide how things work and how things affect them.

Don’t make family rule creation be one of those things. Affirm that they are important members of your family by asking them what rules should be included and what the consequences are for not following them. 

The older your preschoolers are, the better they will articulate their thoughts and provide full reasoning for their answers. Even though it might feel silly including a 2-year-old in making family rules, it isn’t. 

Align Rules with Your Values

Creating rules as a family is a great opportunity for you as a parent to focus on the values you want to instill in your kids. Want to focus on raising kind children? Reflect that in the rules you suggest and create. Want to make honesty a core part of how your family operates? Build it into the rules. Obviously, there are a LOT of values to choose from, but pick out the ones you want to focus on early. You can always add more later.

Attaching a rule to a value has the added benefit of being a reason for the rule to exist at all. When you’re hit with, “Why do I have to clean my room?” you can respond with, “Because we have the family rule that everyone helps with chores. And we do that because we’re always going to help the people we love.”

Keep It Simple & Specific

We’ll share a few examples of family rules soon, but keep one important thing in mind if you are the parent of a preschooler — little ones can only remember two or three rules at a time. You can always add to the list later.

Also, avoid vague language like “good” or “bad.” For example, “make good decisions” leaves too much up for interpretation. Is this based on what mom and dad think are “good” or grandma and grandpa? (Because we all know those will be different…) Use simple, clear language that puts everyone on the same page.

Family Rule Examples

Every family is different and holds different values, so there’s no “master list” of family rules out there. You should build your list with the things that you and your family value, as well as the things that will be the biggest help in getting through day-to-day life.

(Don’t forget to explain why these rules are important. You may have to remind your child several times before the reasoning sticks.)

Here are some categories of rules to consider, along with a few examples. 

  • Respect – Respect is treating other people like people. Don’t get too granular with rules regarding respect. They should be broad statements that apply to many situations.
    • Value statement example: “If you are in this house, you are loved and respected. That’s why we…”
      • “Use kind words.”
      • “Are kind to others, even when we’re upset or have big feelings.” 
      • “Always ask before playing with someone else’s things.”
      • “Knock before entering other people’s rooms.”
  • Safety – Physical safety is obviously a priority, but don’t forget about emotional safety, too. 
    • Value statement example: “Being safe and healthy is important. That’s why we…”
      • “Don’t answer the door without a parent.”
      • “Sit (don’t stand) on furniture.”
      • “Share how we feel as long as we do it calmly and with kindness.”
      • “Never hit or shove.”
  • Honesty – Relationships are built on truth, and family bonds are no exception. Promote honesty within your family so no one has to wonder if those around them are lying. 
    • Value statement example: “We don’t lie to one another. That’s why…”
      • “The consequences will always be less severe when you are honest and tell the truth.”
      • “We tell the truth, even when it hurts.”
  • Hygiene – Humans can be gross, so basic rules about what’s expected when it comes to hygiene are important.
    • Value statement example: “It’s important to take care of our own bodies and make sure we don’t get others sick. That’s why we…”
      • “Wash our hands after going to the bathroom and before every meal.”
      • “Put dirty clothes in hampers.”
      • “Brush our teeth before we go to bed.” 
  • Household ChoresHelping with chores is an important part of being in a family. Even from a young age, children can pitch in to help keep your household running.
    • Value statement example: “We show love to others and our things by helping around the house. That’s why…”
      • “Everyone has chores they help with.”
      • “Saturdays are ‘Pick Up Your Room’ days.”

Your Job: Enforce Rules Consistently

Like most other things when it comes to parenting, kids learn best when they watch their parents or guardians. Your child may be reluctant to follow rules, but they’ll outright ignore them if they don’t see the other people in their family following them either. Be the model for your children on how to live out the rules you created by making sure everyone in the family participates.

Living out the rules is important, but enforcing them is the other part of the job. Communicate clearly the consequences of not following your handful of family rules, and make sure to follow through on them… even when it’s not convenient or it’s difficult. Your children might not like it in the moment, but it will reiterate to them that you take these rules seriously. It will also help them know where the “guardrails” are for how family members are expected to act and treat one another. An unenforced rule isn’t a rule at all. 

Rules don’t have to feel burdensome. In fact, when done well and thoughtfully, they can take a lot of stress off your preschooler and everyone else in your family. With just three or four rules, you can help them navigate a world that can be confusing and contradictory at times. And who wouldn’t like that?