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Let’s start this discussion by taking a look at how well your own rules for children adhere to these general guidelines:

Rule #1: Simplicity works best
Maintaining a few simple rules is generally better than getting carried away with a long list of them. The more complicated your expectations get, the more children will have trouble following them, and the more opportunities there are for failure. This can create a discouraging cycle that leads to more misbehavior. (See our section on encouraging children) Too many rules also means children will feel more constrained, which makes them more inclined to push back. It also puts you in the position of having to run around like a referee in a soccer match blowing your whistle for each one your child breaks.

Rule #2: Follow the principle of minimal interference
Along the same lines, rules need to be as minimally restrictive as possible. Rather than looking for ways to burden children with more rules, ask yourself: What are the least amount of restrictions I can put into place that will still maintain order and keep my children reasonably safe?

Rule #3: The best rules are prescriptive rather than prohibitive
For example, “Always walk inside the house” is better than “no running inside.” Not only do prescriptive rules sound better to a child than prohibitive ones, but they tend to be more effective, since kids follow your focus. If you’re going to be telling children something over and over again, it’s better these statements describe what they should do rather than what you don’t want them to do.

Rule #4: Rules should be developmentally appropriate and realistic
One surefire way to frustrate both you and your child is to run around enforcing a lot of rules that your child is going to have trouble adhering to. For example, expecting a preschooler not to fidget at the table is neither developmentally appropriate nor reasonable. And telling children to “touch gently with one finger” is far more realistic than simply telling them not to touch. If you ever find yourself struggling in anyone aspect of a child’s behavior, that’s a good time to ask yourself if there are ways to tweak your rules and expectations so that it becomes easier for a child to comply.

Rule #5: Make sure children know the reasoning behind the rule
Nothing drives kids crazier than arbitrary demands. So you can save yourself a lot of heartache simply by carefully examining your own motivations and then explaining this reasoning with your children. And if you would have trouble explaining it using simple morals that a child can understand, reconsider this rule.

Getting children to follow the rules

  1. Introduce new rules slowly, not all at once. Once kids have grown accustomed to it, move on to another one (if necessary).

  1. Be consistent. If your rules follow the guidelines listed above, the only other thing to do is consistently enforce them.

  1. Try using the signs and labels technique to reinforce rules

  1. Utilize our printable coloring book: If Parents Didn’t Care, which helps children understand rules and discipline

Specific rules that can help your family
The following is a list of rules that can help keep your family safe and functioning properly. Peruse through this list and try the ones you like.

Safety rules

  • Always ask before trying something new.
  • Keep your seatbelt on until the engine is turned off.
  • If an adult asks you to do something that seems odd, it’s okay to get a second opinion to tell you if that’s an okay thing to do.
  • If you aren’t sure what something is, don’t put it in your mouth.

Rules for around the house

  • Always knock before entering someone’s room
  • Use your inside voices
  • Always walk indoors so that you don’t trip and break something (especially your skull!)

Rules for behavior

  • Ask calm and in control
  • If mom says No, don’t ask dad, and vice versa
  • Taste everything at least once


Rules for dealing with others

  • Be nice to others even when they aren’t nice to you.
  • Remember to say please and thank you.
  • Speak it, don’t shout it.
  • Treat others how you would want to be treated

Teach kids to use basic morals to create their own rules
You should also teach children how to analyze their behavior on moral grounds. This can be done by showing them how to ask probing questions such as . . .

  • Is it nice?
  • Is it safe?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Does it take everyone’s feelings into consideration?

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