Child concerned about rules

Conforming to new rules - supporting your child.

back to school predictable parenting psed routines school readiness

Let’s talk about rules

As children get back into the school routine, they are once again tackling social skills and conforming to new rules.

Some children settle in well, but others don’t. This can leave them feeling isolated and anxious; they may even start rebelling if they really disagree with these new rules and expectations.

We can help our children find their way by supporting them with their social skills and teaching them about rules and how to follow them.

Let’s start with the rules

Success starts at home. So first think about your rules at home:

  • Do you have rules in your home?
  • Do they work? If yes, fantastic. If not - why do you think that is?
  • If you have rules, have you agreed on them as a family? Or are they something you have put in place and told them?
  • Are the rules clear?
  • Are they STOP/NO rules or DO rules, i.e. “No screaming vs. Kind words”
  • Are they visual for the child?
  • Are they consistent? Or something you give in the heat of the moment? 
  • Does the child know what happens IF they choose to break the rules?

Why do we need rules?

Rules make children feel safe; they need to know what is expected from them or not and what will happen if the rules are broken.

If we have clear and consistent rules at home, the concept will not be new to the child when they get to school, where rules are essential to manage the classroom. Your child will find it normal and acceptable to have rules they need to follow. They will also understand that if they choose to break the rules, there will be a direct effect on them.  

Often, rules don’t work because they have been ‘pushed’ down upon our kids. Nobody likes to be told what to do or have a finger pointed at them, so this approach can actually move us further away from co-operation and teamwork.

So, start by sitting down as a family and set them up together like this:

  • Explore and be curious: first, talk about what rules are. Why do we need them? You can ask if there are other places where they have rules, pre-school, clubs and activities they might be part of, at friends’ houses, etc. And why they have these rules and what happens if someone doesn’t follow them. You can even explore rules in society, i.e. stealing, speeding, etc.
  • Brainstorm: then you can all say, write or draw down rules that you think you need in this house, which will lead to a calmer and happier home.
  • Less is more: choose one or two rules to start with that you all agree. You can always add more. But try not to have too many since you will have to follow up on them. Your family rules are more likely to be successful if you start with just a few.
  • Make them DO rules: it is easy to make STOP or DON’T or NOT rules, but they are stating what we don’t do. So make sure the rules show what you DO want to see and hear. i.e.
    • Don’t run inside -> walk inside.
    • No jumping on the sofa -> the sofa is for sitting only.
    • No hitting -> only gentle hands on each other.
    • Stop screaming -> Use your low, calm, inside voice.
    • No taking other toys or things -> ask before taking.
    • NO swearing -> only kind words. 
  • Make them visual: according to the child's age, you can get them to write them up on a computer and print them out, draw them or write them by hand. It is important that the child is part of this process. Then, put them up somewhere so you can all see and refer to them and be reminded of them.
  • Agree to consequences: most parents ask me, ‘So what happens when they don’t follow the rules?’ Yes, it is all good to create them together, but what if…? And that ‘if’ is important to use. ‘What will happen IF one of us breaks the rules?’ Don’t use WHEN, or you are implying that they WILL break the rules, and kids will live up to our expectations! Agree to consequences, i.e., go to their room, lose screen time, remove mobile for xx times, etc. Then, agree that these consequences are for everyone. Yes, Mum and Dad too! If mum screams, her mobile will also go off for 2 hours.

Now that you have agreed to the rules comes the hardest part, sticking to them.

If the rules are broken

If your child breaks the rules, you can calmly refer to the visual agreement that you created together. Say, ‘You agreed to XX rules, and you broke them, and as you agreed, the consequence is xx’. If the child throws a tantrum when you say that, leave it until they are calm. Then, remind them of the consequences. Don’t try to implement them in the heat of the moment.

Be a role model

If you expect your child to respect rules in any society, you need to do so, too. I know it’s easy to say, ‘Well, there are no cars so we can walk at a red light’. Or ‘I know we should only drive 20 mph on this road, but there are no people here in the countryside’. You also need to follow the rules at home and not use the, ‘my house, my rules’ or ‘I am an adult, so it is different’ getout card. In a society or community, everyone follows the same rules. It is not enough to just ‘tell’ our child about rules. We need to ‘show’ them too.

Reviewing the rules

And you can always review the agreements and rules: ‘So Sam, do you think that the rules we created are working?’ If they are not working, talk about why. Are they too hard to follow? Are there too many?

It is not a failure if they don’t work out at first, have patience and make sure you stick to the rules and remind yourself of your long-term goal: to raise independent children who grow into adults who can function well in society.

Mette Theilmann - Founder of Predictable Parenting and Creator of the Parenting Community app.

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