New Year = New Rules

The new year is a good time to address parenting problems. If you are having the same struggle each day, ask yourself if you have clear rules and a specific plan for how children are to accomplish the expectations. Often, family members are not clear and consistent about routines and expectations. And, rules are not enforced.

  1. What are the benefits for children to have rules and structure at home?

 Rules are important to a family. Rules help children feel safe and secure. Rules let children know what to expect, keep children safe and healthy, help family members get along better, and communicate our values to children.

 2. If parents haven’t been strict or had official house rules before, where should they start?

 Parents need to set rules based on their values. At calm time, never in the middle of the problem, parents should decide on the rules together. For example, let’s say a family has a re-occurring problem of getting out the door on time in the morning. Parents should think about what rules are needed. Then, make expectations clear by letting children know that there is a new plan that will solve the problem. Make sure the children know the reason for the rule. When communicating the new rule, parents should listen to their children’s feelings about the rule and empathize with any part of it they may not like.

 3. Do you believe in rewards, like reward charts, or allowance for chores? Why or why not?

No, we do not. We want children to be intrinsically motivated versus externally motivated. We don’t think children need to be rewarded for doing what is expected of them.   When children help out, are kind and respectful, or do tasks of independence, they intrinsically feel good and that is naturally rewarding.  On the other hand, rewards and reward charts focus on getting something for doing what should be expected.

All children should have chores or jobs. Chores teach children that they need to contribute to the well-being of the family and that the family functions well because everyone has jobs. Chores help children feel valuable and capable. The best way to raise responsible children is to give them responsibilities. Even young children can water plants, turn out lights, bring in mail, feed the pet, etc. We do not need to pay children to do chores. In addition, having chores protects children from a sense of entitlement.

We advocate that children get an allowance when they are old enough to understand the value of money and some basics of money management. Allowance should not be not tied to chores but given for the purpose of learning about money management including saving. However, children can earn extra money for doing additional work around the home.

4. What are some good house rules parents can start with?

 Rules should be based on our values. therefore, parents might want to set rules around:

  • Respect – how we treat people and property,what language is appropriate/respectful

  • Responsibilities – chores, homework, pets

  • Routines – bedtime, meals, homework

  • Electronics – rules need to be set/reviewed with each new device that comes in the home

  • Safety

  • Health — food

 5. Do you have 2-4 suggestions for how to make “rules” seem engaging and maybe even fun?

  •  Once rules are explained, kids can make a sign that lists the rules, decorate it and sign it

  • Parents can list all the chores that need to be done for the week. Then, have kids sign up for chores they want to do

  • Parents can write each chore on a card and have kids pick the chores out of a hat – The child does that chore for the week

  • At chore time, parents can put on music and sing while all family members are doing chores

 6. What do you recommend for enforcing rules and/or punishment if the house rules aren’t followed?

 We highly recommend our ABCD plan of limit setting to enforce the rules:

A – Acknowledge feelings (“I know you are having fun playing with your toys.”)

B – Briefly state the rule or limit (“The rule is we need to pick up the toys before we leave.”)

C – Give two acceptable choices or ask what a better choice would be (Would you like to start picking up the blocks or the books?)

D – Done/ Detach/ Disengage

When children do not follow the rules, we need to hold children accountable and use logical consequences. Logical consequences are designed to teach and improve future behavior. We do not believe children need to suffer in order to learn.

6. Is there a certain age group when rules start to click or work better?

Rules help children feel safe and secure, so the earlier you start the better. Toddlers can begin to know the rules of the family. But it is never too late to begin setting rules or making new rules. The key is being consistent with limit setting. Rules click when parents are consistent with the rules and limits are enforced in a firm and kind manner.

For more information about our online parenting course or parent coaching, contact Karen Jacobson, MA, LCPC, LMFT at 312-330-3194, or Lauren Bondy, LCSW at 847-562-9503, Or, visit

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