Ground rules are helpful for children to understand what the limits are and what behaviour is expected. They are also helpful for adults to prevent arguments with their child and address concerns appropriately in the family. Effective ground rules can promote better communication, autonomy and discipline. However, ground rules are only effective when we make realistic, achievable rules, stick to them, and give reasonable consequences when the rules are not followed.


How rules are set

You’ve finally decided to set rules. That’s a great start! You may be tempted to overthrow the old lifestyle and set a long list of rules. Remember: be realistic and specific! Think of some easily achievable rules to start with and start with one or two rules at a time. An achievable rule means everyone in the house is capable of doing it, yet may forget to do so once in a while. Setting rules at home is also more achievable than any other place. Better to start with a more controllable environment!

Children love structure and routine that are clear and consistent, even though they may try to push the limit. A specific rule is one that even a stranger can follow. ‘Use your manners’ may not be a specific rule as opposed to ‘Wait and listen first’. It is also crucial to use a positive, explicit and short rule to make it easy for everyone to remember.


How rules are kept

Now you have set a rule. The hardest part is sticking to it! Remember: ground rules should apply to anyone and come with appropriate consequences. Children are more likely to protest if parents appear to exert authority to demand them to follow a rule. In contrast, if parents are also committed to the ground rule, they can set as an example to their children and motivate them to do the same.

Think of a consequence that is easy for you to follow through when one fails to comply. Make sure everyone understands and agrees with the consequence. When a rule is broken, you can simply remind your child of the rule, ‘We’ve agreed to speak with an indoor voice, Tom.’ and go on to implement the consequence if he breaks the rule again. An example of a consequence may be taking away the toy your child was playing with for 2-3 minutes, if the toy was used to hit or in other non-play purpose. If there are repeated occasions of breaking the rule, consider that maybe people are not ready to follow it. You may need to break it into small steps and achieve them slowly.