Rules are often thought of as related to punishment, but they work best when viewed as a way to guide the growth of your children. Rules can provide your children a healthy, safe, socially acceptable way of interacting within their family.
Proactive rules are used to prevent problems, such as:
- Not allowing spray paint in the house
- Setting a time to be home for dinner
- Having a box for your children to put toys in before bedtime
Reactive rules are made to deal with problems as they arise, such as:
- Setting curfews after your child comes home late
- Putting limits on phone time when one of your children is spending too much time on the phone
- Defining a place to leave dirty shoes after dirt is tracked in on the carpet
There are two phases to using rules:
1. Establishing the rule
2. Enforcing the rule
When establishing rules:
- Define the rule clearly. Your foster children have lived with many different rules under the same name. For example "Speak politely" may have different definitions in different homes.
- Explain the reasons behind the rule (except with very small children). Be sure to include both hard facts and personal needs. "The most common cause of head injuries for children is not wearing a helmet while riding a bike (fact) and I don't want to see you hurt (personal need)."
- Make sure your children have the ability and the skill to follow a rule. Can they reach the sink to brush their teeth (ability) and do they know how to brush their teeth (skill)?
- Allow your children to express their feelings about a rule. Reflective listening is a good idea here.
- Rules must be enforceable. For example if you make a no smoking rule you cannot enforce it outside your house. "No smoking in our house" would be a more enforceable rule.
When enforcing rules:
- You must enforce rules for them to have any effect. If rules are not enforced, your children will assume they are meaningless. Your children will also be more likely to test the limits in other areas.
- Be consistent. It is better not to have a rule than to be inconsistent with enforcement. Having rules you don't really care about will lead to children not caring about rules. You and your spouse need to be consistent as well. If you don't care if your teen swears and your spouse does, then you and your spouse need to come to an agreement and present your teen with one rule.
- When rules are broken (unless it is due to lack of ability or skill), consequences may be necessary to enforce them.
- Consequences are not the only method for enforcing rules. Explaining the reasons for the rule, including facts and personal needs, may be all that is needed.
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