Volume One Special Coverage: Pulling Together While Staying Apart


House Rules: How to create them and how they help

How to figure out a few good guidelines to keep posted in your house

Jim Catlin

Most homes and families have some form of rules that they follow. Typically they’re not in written form, and often they’re not as clear to everyone as the parents believe. Yet clarity of roles and expectations is important, especially with kids. How do you know if you need your house rules in writing? Separately ask each of your kids to write down what they believe the rules are and what happens when they’re followed or not followed. Then compare those with what you desire – it will be immediately obvious.

Here are some common topics to address in households with children:

  • Schoolwork/homework. What grades are expected? When and where should homework be done?
  • Bedtimes/curfews. What are they on school nights, weekends, and during the summer?
  • Friends/overnights. Consider having any questionable friends visit in your home until you’re comfortable with your child being with them away from home.
  • Freedom. Who/what/where: When children are away from home, who are they with, what are they doing, and where are they? How often should they check in by phone or in person?
  • Chores. These should be commensurate with their physical/mental ability to do and remember them.
  • Respect/honesty. Outline how this looks with examples. Consider addressing profanity and loud voices, which are surprising in their ability to create household tension and stress for everyone.
  • Smoking/drinking/drugs. Be very clear on these.
  • Family time. Quantify and outline how you want family time to look, with examples such as meals, rituals/traditions, activities, events, etc.
  • Boundaries/privacy. Include bedrooms, bathrooms, parents’ bedroom, belongings, etc.
  • Electronics. Be very specific on the limitations.
  • Hygiene/bedroom. How often should they clean their room, the shower, etc? Train children to get in the habit of picking up after themselves, wherever they are in the home.

Here are some recommendations on how to create the rules and make them effective:

Hold a family meeting to compile your house rules, including the rewards and consequences that will be earned through compliance or noncompliance. You’ll be surprised at how much input your kids will offer. It’s important to include every child in this meeting and ask each for their input. If they offer no input, remind them that you’re interpreting their opt-out as their full agreement with the end product that will be forthcoming. Make your rules realistic and able to be followed by all.

Parents should separately finalize the rules, after considering all family input. Try to incorporate some element(s) of input from each child, however minor it may appear. Hold a brief follow-up meeting to present the final version and the start date.

Post the rules in a common, conspicuous location, such as the refrigerator. Keep a copy in case it “disappears” or needs revision.

Enforce the rules with every family member. It’s critical that enforcement be consistent and to not to play favorites among your kids.

If someone breaks a rule, don’t let them negotiate their way out of it. Tactfully remind them that their input was already considered, and maybe ask them to suggest a proposed revision that may be considered later.

Rotate the chores regularly, so that everyone gets cross-trained and no one gets bored with their chore or begins complaining about it.

Don’t set a rule for kids that parents don’t follow (prohibiting smoking, for example).

Like it or not, role-modeling is a powerful, inevitable force.

Revise/reprint the rules as necessary, but include the kids in that process again.

The potential benefits of creating house rules are numerous:

  • Gives the kids a glimpse into the adult world of chores, jobs, laws, etc.
    Provides regular feedback on behaviors, including rewards and consequences which are also common in the adult world.
  • Teaches accountability regarding holding up their end of a contractual relationship.
  • Learns adult-appropriate chores/skills that are commonly needed in households.
  • Keeps parents accountable to the plan, which can be empowering to kids in a healthy way.
  • Demonstrates family problem-solving with every member having input.
    Better compliance with the plan: By virtue of your kids’ input they are now partial “owners” of the plan. Self-accountability emerges.
  • When rule enforcement is necessary, the plan shifts some pressure from parents to child.
  • The plan itself (that the kids helped compile) can share the load of being the “bad guy.”
  • Possible school performance/grade improvement.
  • Consistent sleep patterns: Sleep experts believe this is crucial to all ages.
  • Less parental worry about where kids are, who they’re with, and what they’re doing.
  • A better plan for responding to my child’s marginally-appropriate friend(s).
  • More peaceful household with respect and honesty becoming the norm.
  • More high-quality family time with fewer electronic intrusions.
  • More presentable home when surprise visitors arrive.
  • Shows kids that parents can be flexible and that rules revisions are normal in the adult world (i.e., laws).
  • After posting/using this contract for a period of time, the rules will become memorized (and thus clear) and no longer need posting, and hopefully require less enforcement.

Remember: Your house is your physical structure, but your house rules are your family’s behavioral structure.

Jim Catlin is a licensed clinical social worker who holds a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from UW-Stout. He invites readers to submit questions and offer ideas about what they would like to see in this column. Submit questions/ideas to editor@ChippewaValleyFamily.org.

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