House Rules
House rules relieve everyday stress. Put away what you take out.

Everyone needs to know the guidelines and the basic policies under which they are operating. In some families, the parents talk about the rules they want to establish and present them to the children. In other families, the Family Manager articulates the rules after hearing input from all team members. The ideal is a collaborative system of setting house rules in a family meeting.

No matter how you do it, your house rules should include a reward-and-consequence system that applies to everyone. For example, if one of your rules is that nobody eats in the living room, then nobody eats in the living room—Mom and Dad included. You can’t build a strong family team in a “Do as I say, not as I do” environment.

Creating house rules saves a lot of emotional energy that would have been used to fuss and argue. But there are long-term benefits also. The relational skills your kids learn at home—respecting others’ feelings and their property—will make it easier for them to form healthy relationships with friends, college roommates, their spouses, coworkers, and associates in the future.

Consider adapting some of the following examples of House Rules to your own situation.

Rule 1: We’re all in this together. The rules apply to everyone—Mom and Dad, too. Kids won’t buy a double standard. When you give them permission to call you on the carpet for a violation they will feel ownership of the rules.

Rule 2: No yelling at anyone or “pitching fits.” Reserve yelling and screaming for emergencies only.

“No pitching fits” is a good rule to adopt. From an early age, children need to know this is not acceptable behavior. Never give the desired response when a child used a pitching a fit as a means of getting it. As children are able to understand, explain the consequences and follow through. Teach your kids alternative ways ask for what they want or express in a controlled way how they feel.

Rule 3: Delete the phrase “Shut up” from our vocabulary. Every human being is a worthwhile, uniquely made individual, worthy of respect. Don’t tolerate these or any other disrespectful or devaluing words between family members. Make sure everyone knows offenders will face consequences.

Rule 4: Calling names, or making unkind, cutting remarks to each other is strictly out of order. Family teasing and laughing together is healthy. But every family must have boundaries. It’s important that when family members poke fun at one another, it’s fun for everyone. It’s not funny to joke about someone’s big nose, deformities, seemingly stupid mistakes, fears, or weaknesses.

Make a list of the names and negative phrases you would like to eliminate from your family’s vocabulary: “dummy,” “stupid,” “punk, “I don’t like you,” “You make me sick.” Set a family goal to rid these terms and phrases from your conversation.

Rule 5: Take responsibility for our own actions and words. Children need help learning how to work through conflicts. They don’t know how to do this instinctively. When your kids get into a fight, sit them down and hear both sides of the story. Ask questions that make each one think about both sides of the problem. Guide them to discover what the root problem really is and focus on their behavior—not what was done to them.

Help your children learn the principle that small people blame others for their mistakes and actions. Make them aware of the fact that they are always responsible for their own actions and that you hold them responsible for their actions—no matter what the other person does. There is no excuse for poor behavior, a poor response, or blaming someone else for our problem.

Rule 6: Ask forgiveness we they have hurt or offended someone, even if it was an accident. Sometimes it’s hard for people to see the importance of restoring a relationship—especially if they can’t see they did anything wrong. It’s important that we try to feel the other person’s pain or discomfort. As a parent, set the example by apologizing when you hurt or disappoint a child—even if it was unintentional. Saying “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong” won’t undermine your authority. Living a double standard will.

Rule 7: Keep confidential what we share with each other. Family members need to know they can trust each other. Are you considered a safe, supportive, and reliable source of counsel they can trust?

Don’t talk about one child’s problems to another child. And don’t talk to your friends about confidential matters your spouse or child shares with you.

Rule 8: Respect each other’s space. Everyone needs a degree of privacy. Make a habit of always knocking before opening someone’s closed door.

Rule 9: Respect each other’s stuff. Children need to learn to respect the property of others and to share their belongings with others. To do this, they must have a sense of control over their things and respect the control someone else has over his things. This means if a child has a friend over and they want to play with something that belongs to a sibling who isn’t home to give his permission, then they must find something else to play with.

Rule 10: Agree to abide by family chore system and get together regularly for family team meetings. Everyone who lives under the roof of a house should help with the upkeep. Identify the consistent conflicts in your home: whose turn it is to feed the dog , do the dishes, or vacuum the family room. Then schedule a family meeting and use the Who’s Responsible for What list to divide chores between family members.

More ideas for House Rules:

  • Turn off electronic devices for a certain amount of time every day and connect as a family.
  • Use good manners with family as well as guests.
  • Respect each other’s belongings. Ask if you want to borrow something.
  • If you fix a snack in the kitchen, clean up after yourself. Rinse your dirty dishes and put them in the dishwasher.
  • Everyone is responsible for his or her own laundry.
  • Everyone participates in a once-a-week cabin cleanup of common areas. As well, each person is responsible for keeping his or her private space (bedroom, work area) clean according to mutually agreed-upon standards.
  • No leaving wet towels or dirty clothes on the bathroom floor. Clean up the tub or shower after yourself.
  • Let others know in advance if you need to watch (or record) a certain TV program for work or school. Check with others before you play loud music. If you need to leave a project out overnight in a common area, get approval before you begin.
  • Take thorough phone messages for each other.
  • In every room: make sure your trash is in the trash can. (No matter how much we love our kids, picking up their used tissues, scraps of paper, food, and garbage is disgusting.)

Rules change as children grow and circumstances change. When you make changes, make sure to notify everyone of the changes.

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