The Constitution. Traffic laws. City ordinances. Club by-laws. School regulations. Everywhere we go, we are guided by rules that dictate our conduct. Most of us would agree that's a good thing. We know what's expected from us and the consequences of not meeting those expectations. Rules help stave off anarchy. Isn't it funny, then, that we never think to try posting the rules of our own homes?
The first step of teaching good behavior is establishing clear expectations. Yet often we believe our rules are clear and set, but to our children, our limits flow and ebb like the tide.
Sherrie Johnson, counselor at the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board, VA, sees this in the families that come to her. "Parents sometimes say their kids aren't listening, yet the parents aren't being clear and consistent. Sometimes, I don't do therapy so much as help families define the specifics of what they expect."
Sometimes, too, we parents need a concrete reminder of what we expect—and what we want to do about it. In my own home, I've found having posted rules and consequences keeps me from either overreacting or letting things slide.
Things may be easier to enforce when they are written. Elvira Bates, mother of three in Pueblo West, Colorado, says the rules list keeps her from having to repeat herself. "I can say 'Look at Rule #2.'" Her children then have to read the rule and think about what they did wrong.
To develop your house rules, start with your spouse, deciding which behaviors are most troublesome. Pick only a few, so you won't overwhelm your kids and yourself. Instead, pick the five to ten most important things; as these behaviors become second nature, you can make a new list, or replace some of them with new challenge spots.