Family Rules: Should They Really be Unspoken?

Most families have rules, or expectations for children. These rules are part of your family’s culture and can often be “unspoken.” Maybe your family expects that children should treat their toys and other material possessions with respect.

These unspoken rules may be clear to you. But are they clear to your child? Have you ever told your child, “You know you’re not supposed to do that!” Does he really know? Of course common sense comes into play at some point, but things that are common sense to us as adults, may not be as obvious to our third grader who has had a lot less life experience.

Family Rules 

In order for everyone to be on the same page, it is helpful to have a list of family rules written where everyone can see them. To create the rules, you may want to have a family meeting. As a family, you can decide on 5-7 simple rules for everyone to follow. If you have more than 7 rules your children may have difficulty remembering them, and it will be harder for parents to enforce them.

In order to have only a few rules that apply to lots of situations, think broadly. For example, instead of having these three separate rules: no hitting each other, no taking or breaking each other’s toys, and no screaming at each other, you could have the simple rule of “Treat others and their property with respect.” Ideally, rules work to capture your family’s morals and values. Some of our other favorites are – “Mom and Dad are the boss,” “We listen the first time,” and “We communicate instead of fight.”

After the rules are established it is a good idea to have a conversation with your children about what each rule means and what the consequences are for breaking a rule. It’s important to allow your children to have input as you create and implement the rules. This helps them feel responsible, like their opinion matters, and will give you more buy-in from them when it’s time to enforce the rules.

Don’t forget to have fun with it! After the rules have been agreed upon, your family can make an activity out of creating a piece of art with the rules on it, making sure each artist leaves their autograph. Displaying it somewhere prominently in the home would serve as a nice reminder, not only of the rules, but also the time you spent as a family working together to create them.

Keep in mind that rules should be revisited as your children grow. The rules that your family has when you have toddlers may be different than what you have when they’re teens. It’s a good idea to have an annual check in during a family meeting to ensure that the rules are growing with your family.

If you found this information helpful, or would like more support in correcting your child’s misbehavior, Thornwell would love to talk to you. Please reach out to Tracie Seng, your local Family Specialist, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (470) 223-5980. To find out more about the Building Families Program through Thornwell, please visit their website at

Written by Tracie Seng, LMSW 

Family Specialist- Building Families Program of Thornwell

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