If you are wanting to set some firm, flexible, and nurturing family rules then this is the place for you. And actually… there is so much to learn about the types of rules you need in your home. Hope this post helps!
Recently we moved into a new house (to us).
About a week or two into living there, I found myself confused.
First of all, I seemed more angry than normal. Then, the kids seemed more “naughty” than normal.
Everything seemed more chaotic. It only took another minute of rumination to realize that while our location had changed… our rules had not.
We had a problem…
- I had not established new rules, yet I expected the kids to intuitively know them.
- I had not anticipated I’d be bothered by things in this house that I wasn’t bothered by in the other house (hence, new frustrations).
- The kids were exploring and making themselves at home, and it was creating mess I hadn’t yet created systems to clean up.
It led me on a rabbit trail about family rules.
I spoke about this with Sandy from Language of Listening® as I was trying to work out why I had become a Godzilla Mom all of a sudden. Alas, I realized it boiled down to one thing I needed to explore more.
I needed this badly, and if you do too, let’s dive in!
Start brainstorming rules to make your family life more peaceful, connected, and strong!
First, a quick word from a reader about this video:
“Hi Rachel, I just wanted to drop you a quick note to thank you! I have a TON of faith and believe that your email “ It’s hard to be consistent” found me right on time last week.
In my home i have 2-13 year old girls and a VERY active 6 year old. Also, I work full time as an RN and I’m back in school. It’s been a struggle with my little guy with tantrums, acting out and just overall unfavorable behavior.
Anyway…I started therapy with him about 5 weeks ago.
They’re trying to diagnose him with possibly ADHD.
I sat down and watched your video exhausted and completely overwhelmed after finally getting everyone in bed and I almost instantly felt like I knew what my child’s problem was!
I loved how you talked about wiggle room within the boundary.
Sometimes, I’m such a dork, but i even took notes! haha I also dug into more of your blog and read about routines and things you do to have the kids help so everything isn’t on you.
It’s been 3 days since my 6 year old and I TOGETHER came up with a bedtime routine.
Oh my goodness what a difference already!
Maybe this isn’t ADHD after all…maybe it was a lack of structure and boundaries from the adults in his life. Thank you again for what you do, you literally were a Godsend to me when I needed it most!”
A Big Discussion On Family Rules
Note: To discuss this topic in depth with someone far more experienced than myself, I did a Zoom call with Sandy from Language of Listening®.
The Difference Between Boundaries & Family Rules
Boundary is pretty much a buzz word these days.
For the purposes of this conversation, a boundary is something that already is inside of you based on your preferences – what you like or don’t like. You do not “come up with” a boundary. You either already feel it inside or you don’t. Or it’s a physical one, like the budget or the confines of the home. You can’t really make this stuff up and, in any moment, you can’t really change it.
Rules, for the purposes of this conversation, are what you put in place to put your boundaries into action.
So… this a lot to process, I know. Let’s break it down into how this works.
Examples of Boundaries (your own) as they relate to parenting and family life:
- Boundary: You cannot cope with less than 8 hours sleep.
- Rule: You create a family bedtime routine that allows you to have 8 hours of sleep (not including newborn months, duh).
- Boundary: You don’t like crumbs on the counter and cannot cook or function in a dirty kitchen (58:33 in the video gives this example).
- Rule: Everyone who prepares food on the counter tops must wipe them clean afterwards.
- Boundary: Your budget does not allow you to buy duplicate toys for each sibling so sharing must happen.
- Rule: Each child can take a long turn with their desired toy, but must choose an end time and share at that point.
The key here is to not try and talk yourself out of your boundaries. This is how you end up feeling bitter, walked on, and resentful.
Read: A No Drama Approach To Your Child’s Behavior Problems
Here’s Why You’re Not Always “Consistent” With Family Rules
So now that we’ve talked about boundaries and rules… I want to help you heave a huge sigh of relief.
We all know that “consistency consistency consistency” is key with parenting, right?
Because of this, we all feel quite guilty if we are not being consistent. We think we are ruining our kids and they’ll never be responsible and we may as well pack it in.
But I want to let you in on a little secret: you are probably very consistent with your boundaries… just not with your rules.
So what does this mean? Keep the boundary, change the rule.
Emotions are a H U G E part of a young child’s life. These “I Am Feeling” cards will reduce tantrums, meltdowns, and help your little one learn emotional awareness.Learn More
Let’s give an example…
(18:56 in the above video gives my example below about being CONSISTENT with the boundary but having a rule that didn’t make sense for us)
I made a rule for our new house: absolutely no eating in the living room.
However, I did not consistently enforce this. The kids realized I did not consistently enforce it so they took it as a door, not a wall. Upon further reflection I understood what was going on.
My boundary was NOT that I didn’t want any eating or drinking on the couches, but that I didn’t want the newly upholstered couches stained. This explains why I didn’t mind water bottles or cheerios or veggie sticks on the couches but I DID mind juice or strawberries.
I was keeping my actual boundary (no foods that would stain), but not the rule (no food at all).
I simply do not wish to enforce a total ban on food because I don’t care about that. Really, I just care my couches are in good condition.
My solution? I told my kids my actual boundary. Now, if they are in doubt, they will ask me if a certain snack is okay. They are far more aware now of what I am okay with and not okay with and keep my boundary easily.
Am I making sense?
If you find yourself being inconsistent with some of your family rules, it’s time to dig deep because this is an area you’ll want to think on (56:10 of the video).
Finding Your ACTUAL Boundary And Make Family Rules Around It
First of all, one of the big keys here is to actually find your boundaries.
You may want your spouse may to do the same. Consider this: if your spouse is often bothered by your children’s behavior it’s because they are crossing one of his unspoken boundaries.
(16:20 in the video talks about what permissive parenting is — changing your boundaries)
How to find your boundaries:
- Ask yourself this… where am I not consistently keeping rules in our home?
- Notice when you start to feel bitter and resentful… ask yourself WHY you are feeling that way. This will reveal a lot.
- What situations cause you to yell? Why?
- Think on the things that seem to matter most to you in parenting, dig a little deeper.
When you notice that a rule isn’t really being enforced in your home, instead of heaping on the guilt and condemnation… just ask yourself… could it be that this isn’t your actual boundary?
Read: Boundary Trouble: What To Do
Pull out these fun connecting questions to share some laughs with your precious ones!
Use them at:
- meal times
- car rides
- as a “calm down” trick
- for dinner time conversation
- or any time the day is getting chaotic or
- you need a reset to connect.
What Is A “Can Do”? With Regards To Family Rules
In the video above Sandy mentions “Can Do’s” a few times.
A “Can Do” is an alternative to the behavior your child is currently doing that is okay with you. Don’t mistake this for neglecting your boundary.
My child is screaming and running around inside the house.
I say, “Look like you want to scream. You can scream outside.”
It is simply one way that the child can do something they want within your own boundaries and rules.
(13:32 on the above video goes into this further)
Read Sandy’s Online Book Here Free: Say What You See® Handbook
Family Rules & Strong-Willed Or Self-Directed Kids:
(01:20 in the video above)
This is always a hot button for moms!
Is my child strong-willed or have I just let them have too much power?
Answer? It depends.
What’s A Self-Directed Child?
A self-directed child is one who is used to deciding what they want to do on their own. Then, when mom wants to hold one of her boundaries or enforce a family rule, that child isn’t into it.
Some children are born with more forceful driven personalities, but some simply have learned to adapt in a family without clear cut rules, and they’ve made their own.
The way towards having children who respect your boundaries is the same, though it might be a more uphill climb if your child is strong-willed.
Tips for using boundaries:
- Find your own boundaries- Your own boundaries are what works for you. Don’t fall into a comparison trap because you’ll be frustrated and they won’t stick.
- Clear Rules Matter- Create clear rules relating to those boundaries if they aren’t one in the same (i.e. Sandy’s crumb example in 58:33 of the video)
- Flexibility is OK– Allow your child freedom within the boundary or rule but expect compliance with the boundaries and rules
- Act Quickly & Fairly- Set your child up for success by intervening early, not putting them in situations where they act out, and connecting regularly with your child.
Read: Removing Judgment From Behavior (How To)
Kid Get Rules… They CRAVE Them!
(1:01:24 in the video shares an example of this)
Also, if you’re worried kids don’t like rules… it’s just the opposite. In fact, chidden crave rules because they offer needed stability and comfort for growth.
Plus, when a child likes something, they want to do it all the time.
Child’s Rule: I always go first!
When they don’t like something, they never want to do it.
Child’s Rule: I never eat green things!
This is the heart of rules.
Even without help they’ll make their own preferences into rules (it’s human nature) and they’ll tell them to you!
Don’t be shy of having rules, but don’t have unnecessary rules or ones you don’t actually care about.
Here’s the key: have rules that help you keep your boundaries and then you will consistently enforce them!
Thank you, Sandy!
Major thanks to Sandy from Language of Listening® for this interview. Sandy works with parents as a parent coach, educator, as well as a life coach.
She has coached many women throughout the years including someone you’ll likely recognize, Rachel Macy Stafford of Hands Free Mama. I’ve been blessed to be learning from her the past few months and hope to keep sharing all that I’m learning with you!
What an amazing, insightful post! I’d never thought of this issue in terms of boundaries vs. rules, but it makes perfect sense. Thank you for sharing this; I’m eager to implement these strategies with my 3.5 year old.
Rachel Norman says
Lindsey, I’m so glad you found it helpful. I have been thinking about this stuff for months now and was trying to introduce it in a clear way! I have to have pains in my own house to find solutions going forward, ha, so we’ve been working hard :)
Great post. It ties together a lot of your posts I have read recently and found very helpful (door vs. wall—major “aha!” moment). I think this will help solve a lot of the unnecessary frustrations my kids and I are experiencing right now. I am looking forward to watching the full video when they go to bed tonight!
Thank you for this interview and post. I found this very encouraging and like you said ‘freeing’. It is nice to have the confirmation that my boundaries are what I need and that is okay, and that changing up our rules from time to time is not giving in or being inconsistent, it is coming up with a new ‘can do’ to meet our needs or boundaries. Our rules may stick or change depending on the circumstances or the age of my children etc and that is okay, as long as everyone is clear about what the rule is at any given time. My children feel empowered when they come up with a way, ‘a can do’ that meets my boundary, and when I acknowledge that and give them permission they are pleased and happy and so am I, everybody wins.
my 5 years old just don’t listen to me. he eating cookies when every he feels like and ton of other things. if don’t get what he wants cry for 8/12 hours then again start asking for things. i’m tired now.
Hey Rachel! Loved the video with Sandy! My husband and I love the idea of boundaries and can dos with our son who is 4 abd is self directed not strong willed! The one behavior we are struggling with to handle is his top of lung screaming when he needs help, is frustrated, sad, mad. It shakes the house! How does deal with that…we’ve tried everything from sending him to his room till he’s calmed and can ask in a calm way. Which ends up leading to me boiling in the next room and in public this doesn’t work well. We e tried approaching it in ask me calmly for help and I will help, or I know your mad and you need to calm down but it results in a scream of No sometimes but sometimes he will ask calmly once prompted. We’ve put him in time out… So, are we expecting too much? I’m sure you’ve dealt with similar with all those kiddos of yours! Thx a ton!!
How can I get my rebellious 2 yr old to sleep at night? She was napping fine till about a month ago and going to bed at 7:45. Now she screams tries to jump out of crib and, prettty much loses her mind. She has started to test the limits lately and I put her in time out frequently. She hates to be in her car seat and runs through car if I don’t put her in seat immediately. I am at wits end. This is my second child and didn’t think it would be so hard the second time. Please help with any advise.