House rules for smooth sailing at home – Amanda Abel, paediatric psychologist

If you’re looking for some smoother sailing or calmer waters at home, making sure your kiddos know the behavioural boundaries can help. So how do we teach our kids which behaviours are okay and which ones are not okay? I guess part of this conundrum is to make sure that we are firstly clear about it in our own minds.  I’m no advocate for a cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all approach in my practice, but I do generally find that a prescribed set of two to four, behaviourally based rules really helps communicate your expectations clearly to your kiddos. Before you sit down to explain the rules, consider these points:

  • You can set up clear rewards and consequences for whether or not the kids follow the rules. If you decide to do this, what will the rewards and consequences be?
  • Make sure your rules are positively phrased – i.e. you tell your children what to do, rather than what not to do.
  • Also, keep your rules realistic – I remember a family I saw many years ago who, when asked to create a list of ‘house rules’ for homework, returned the following week with an exhaustive list which documented every conceivable chore around the house that they wanted their child to do.
  • Keep your rules behaviourally based, not related to chores. Focus on the behaviours needed in order to be an active participant in the household if you are keen for your child to be contributing to the chore list. Behaviourally based rewards could be “we speak nicely to each other” or “we listen to our parents”.

When sitting down to explain the rules, talk about the ‘what’s in it for me’ factor with your child – i.e. why should he/she follow these rules now? You can explain both intrinsic (you’ll feel calmer when you talk kindly) and extrinsic motivators (you’ll get a star on your star chart for every day that you follow the rules).

For optimal results, pair your house rules with a reward system of some sort. Stay tuned for our post about reward charts and how best to implement one in your home.



Amanda Abel, paediatric psychologist, is available for consultations at Northern Centre for Child Development in Melbourne.

Photo credit Kris Williams

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