How can you help children understand that each family needs rules and sometimes, different families may follow different rules?
The word “rules” triggers thoughts of discipline and punishment, and as a result, it often gets a bad rep! In reality, though, rules are important for children and adults to be able to live and get along with others. As society becomes increasingly individualistic, the setting of family rules may help children get a headstart when it comes to being socially well-integrated.
Why Have Family Rules?
Establishing family rules is important from an early age as they can help add a sense of structure and routine in a growing child’s life. Rules also prepare children for society and social settings, such as interacting with siblings, classmates, friends and even with partners and colleagues in the later years. It can help them understand what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.
As babies, a gentle shushing or clucking sound is enough for kids to understand certain behavioural rules. However, once they are past the baby and toddler stage, it sometimes becomes a bit difficult to enforce family and household rules. Once children reach an age where they can argue, express and reason for themselves, often they want to test boundaries. Since the home is where they feel most comfortable, that’s also where they are most at ease pushing their limits. At schools, they wouldn’t want to risk detention or losing a house point!
How Can You Enforce Family Rules?
There is no magic mantra to get children to follow family rules, but some of these ideas could help.
- Lead by example. Family rules don’t just apply to children, they apply to mums, dads and aunties as well!
- Get children involved in the setting of family rules, once they are at an age where they can understand their importance. It is much easier to follow a rule that you have laid out than what has been dictated to you.
- Following the previous point, make sure to adapt your family rules as your kids mature. Naturally, the same rules won’t apply to teens who believe they know it all as for toddlers who naturally see you as their role model.
- Explain consequences and follow through, especially if you have discussed a certain consequence beforehand with your child and he or she knowingly breaks the rule. It is important that kids see you as a woman (or man) of your word.
- Be fair and reasonable while laying down the family rules. Family rules should revolve around absolute essentials, such as honesty, integrity, respect, thoughtfulness, fairness, safety and household chores. Family rules should not curb or inhibit normal childhood behaviours unless it compromises safety, respect, honesty and other non-negotiable family rules. If your rules are reasonable, they are more likely to be followed.
Getting Kids To Understand That Every Family Will Have Different Rules
Have you had a friend’s child (or your child’s friend!) over for a playdate and have them tell you, “I am not forced to eat vegetables in my house!” It can be disconcerting for adults to feel that they are imposing their family rules on another child. To tackle this problem, my friends and I have devised a simple tactic that we’ve now communicated to the kids – Your house, your rules; my house, my rules!
In an expat city like Hong Kong, where friends often become family and kids spend an inordinate amount of time in another household, it’s important to teach children to accept another family’s rules as well (naturally, this only applies to close friends who are our family’s anchors in Hong Kong). Family rules around picky eating are relatively unimportant (even though we know food wastage is never acceptable), but getting children to stop comparing their lot with others is a valuable lesson to learn. Once the “keeping up with the Joneses” starts, it’s a slippery slide.
As kids learn and understand about finances, they may realise that these can influence a family’s rules when it comes to spending, saving, household chore management and gift-giving. During the holiday season, it’s important to teach a child to be grateful for what they have and to know that what is acceptable (or even possible) in one family may not be in another. Accepting family rules and circumstances with grace, whether in your household and in another’s, is a sign of emotional maturity.