4 Surefire Ways to Make Your Rules Stick

Photo Credit: D. Sharon Pruitt, Pink Sherbet Photography

I am often told by parents that they are tired of having to nag their kids all the time. Not only do they hate to have to nag, but their kids hate it and consequently start tuning them out even more. But, “if I stop nagging” they ask me, “how do I get them to follow the rules?”

After lots of advice, talking with the families and attempting many failed strategies, I have found that there are 4 things that parents—or anyone with lots of rules (bosses, teachers, administrators) often forget to do, but really work when trying to set-up their in-house regulations.

1: Actions Speak Louder than Words

You are constantly telling your kids not to eat before dinner, but sometimes they catch you nibbling away on some carrots or potato chips at 5:30. If you don’t follow your own rules, why should anyone else?

This seems simple, but you would be surprised how often kids gripe to me about how they are constantly told to chew with their mouth closed and keep their elbows off the table, but when they look over at dad, he is practically spewing mac and cheese into mom’s water glass.  This goes with the saying “Do as I say AND as I act”.

A study by Dr. Albert Mehrabian in 1967 found that:

•55% of the meaning people make in their interactions is based on what they see

•38% is based on how it sounds (voice tone, volume, speed)

•7% is based on the actual words that are being said.

Next time you tell your child what to do, what you actually say might not be important. The way you say it to them, but most importantly, your own actions, will have a greater impact on whether of not your kids follow through. Show them that you respect your own rules, and they might too.

Obviously there are some house rules you shouldn’t have to follow (bedtime at 8pm), for those “kids only” rules, read on.

2: Explain the Rule
“Do not leave the video game wires all over the living room!” “But, mom why?!” “Because I SAID SO!” I think that “Because I said so is one of the worst things a parent can say to a child (Because I am the mother/father, Because I am older/an adult also count).  It’s somewhat condescending and would make your child see it as ‘unfair’, no matter how reasonable the rule is.

Yes, sometimes kids will ask why to be irritating, but a lot of the time there is genuine confusion behind the question. If you want your child to not leave his sneakers on the floor, not curse in front of the neighbors or clean up the dog poop, they will have way more incentive if you explain: someone could trip over their shoes and hurt themselves, cursing is not polite because it can offend people and if we do not clean up the dog poop we will not be able to play on the lawn.

I don’t mean you should scream when you trip over his shoes or step on dog poop, but sit down and explain it to them when you are calm—preferably when you first make the rule.

3: Write it Down

Many have toyed with the idea of having your kids sign “contracts” for the house rules. This might work for some. But generally writing the house rules down somewhere out of the way but in plain sight (cabinet door, over the washing machine etc etc) can help the rules feel more official.

When I have asked kids why they do not do one of their particular chores, the answer has often been, “well, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal” or “I forgot.” Write it down and it will make the rule feel more formal and permanent.

4: Reward, Don’t Punish

I am a huge fan of positive reinforcement. When I was younger I had a serious problem with the microwave. I would heat up soup and leave the splatters all over the microwave. I don’t know how many times my mom told me to wipe up the microwave, and yet I continued to not clean up after myself.  I actually started to clean the microwave when my mom started to thank people in the house who did little things to make her life easier.  This made me want to be thanked as well, thus encouraging me to start on a new routine.

It sucks to only here about what you do not do, thanking your kids or saying ‘good job’ verbally or with a quarter is great incentive to keep following the rules.

If you liked this article you might also like…

Radical Family Workbook

Rules that Stick

Tags: Rules, To stop nagging, Actions speak louder than words, Explain, Reward, Write down, Interaction, Advice

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No Responses to “4 Surefire Ways to Make Your Rules Stick”

  1. Daddy
    January 20, 2008 at 4:40 pm #

    I’m Daddy. THAT’S why I get the big piece of chicken! And that’s why I “nosh” anytime I damn well please!

    You buy the groceries?! You get to tell me how to eat! (Same goes for Mommy by the way.)

    Sheesh. Grow a pair.

    (Now if this were a list for the maid! I get your point – totally! She needs a list. Big time!)

    It’s called consequences folks. Johnny and Suzy won’t be forgetting “the list” when they lose xbox or their cellphone for a week cause they forgot they weren’t supposed to wipe their nose on the living room sofa!

    “You make good choices and you make bad choices. And each has a “consequence”.

    If your list describing what is right and wrong – is so long – it has to be written down “you” have a problem.

    This sounds like a man/woman mars/venus thing. Women want to talk about and explain things 6 times before they feel comfortable. Men find solutions – agree to them once – and enforce the consequences on the first failure to do so.

    I think the female approach works good for girls. (I guess cause I don’t have one. But girls just seem to have their appropriate behavior down from birth.) But this works terribly for boys. As my household can attest.

    Have you ever seen a kid lose TV or the xbox? Even for the evening? You’d think they were being beaten with a coat hanger. Who needs to spank for christ sake?!

    ****Your list should be common sense right and wrong behavior that is appropriate in your home. And the consequence for failing to abide by it should be sufficient enough that memory lapse is not an option.****

    I’ll bet you five bucks she has boys. And can’t figure out why they won’t follow her rules. That she describes in detail. And then warns them about their consequences anywhere from 5 to 20 times before enforcing them.

    She’s been conned by boys that have convinced her “they forgot”. They won’t “forgot” when their friends are all playing the game the of the year and they’re playing tiddly winks with Mom! :) Trust me.

  2. Thomas
    January 20, 2008 at 5:02 pm #

    Really nice list! Good ideas for helping household rules stick. I’ll definitely try a few out.

  3. M.E.
    January 21, 2008 at 12:42 am #

    I think Daddy misattributes the “male” and “female” — what he means is “authoritarian” (well, he did reply here as Daddy; of course he’s gonna embrace a more authoritarian style) vs. something more flexible. Not all men are authoritarian.

    I think this depends on the kids involved; I grew up with an autocratically authoritarian parent, who did not make sure that the rules were common-sense things, and whose punishments were emotionally-driven and disproportionate to the offenses (by the way, I’m talking about a woman). Obviously, “Daddy” is not advocating abuse, but it is difficult for many authoritarian parents to find the line between strictness and abuse, avoid ego-tripping, know when to stop controlling their children so closely, etc.

    I have chafed at authoritarianism since I was very, very young, but although I was always in trouble for minor rule infringement and such (room not clean enough, dishes not done because I was too busy with schoolwork, etc), I was also basically a good kid who was very focused on education and positive side interests; I was busy and tired. I can promise you that a reward-based system would have worked much better for me… though, obviously, there are a lot of things that would have worked better for me than my mother’s parenting style. I’ve also known parents more controlling than my mother, though most were also less emotional and the punishments less harsh; they had larger families and their kids, even if angry at them, had personalities that could handle that kind of discipline.

    My parents were divorced and my dad’s behavior, when I was with him, was much more in the style that “Daddy” describes as “feminine.” This is why I don’t think it’s useful to ascribe this stuff to one gender or another, and I think the personalities of the children concerned should be taken into account. “Daddy” advocates consequences — and there should be some, for misbehavior (not just a failure to remember house rules like “no eating after 7PM”) — but I think there is something to be said for goal-oriented motivation, which teaches good habits and perseverance, two qualities which are important in modern life and today’s workplace. I mean… I wonder which of two kids is more likely to finish a lengthy project? The one who fears punishment & is thus has stresses in addition to finishing the project (stresses that can have negative health effects), or the one who’s anticipating a reward? Incentives can sweeten toil.

  4. Vanessa
    January 21, 2008 at 9:18 am #

    Hi M.E and Daddy

    You are absolutely right, there is such a balance between authority and having a more laid back attitude and this really really depends on the kid. I would say that es this can also depend on the sex, whether the boy is male or female but as M.E pointed out starting out with a rewards based system is a good place to start and if there are serious behavioral problems then moving on to ‘consequences.’

    For daddy, I am actually not a parent I am 22 and write from a younger perspective about worked in my own life and with many of the teens I work with tell me what they wish they had in their household.

    It is important to note that what teen would tell me they like having a punishment based system over a rewards system, but I remember when I was younger the punishments might have made me follow the rules, but they also made me very angry at my parents. While the incentives made me follow the rules because I wanted (more tv, time at the mall, my favorite dinner whatever) and happy with my parents when I got the incentive.

    Thank you for both of your comments!


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