Essential House Rules for Kids: Why They Matter and How to Establish Them

Reading time: 10 minutes
Written by
| Updated on
July 5, 2024
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house rules for kids

What you’ll learn

House rules for kids are vital for their development, offering structure and fairness. These rules help children understand consequences, choose behaviors, and build a healthy routine. Read this article to find out how to establish house rules and also how to determine kids to respect them.

House rules for kids are an important part of parenting. When children are learning how to interact with the world, they benefit from both structure and fairness, especially at home. Rules play a critical role in early childhood cognitive development, creating a sense of permanence and understanding of cause and effect (consequences). As children grow older, rules help them choose their behaviors based on the outcomes they want to create.

Both parents and children benefit from establishing house rules early and maintaining consistent house rules that apply to all siblings as they reach each age group equally. House rules for kids can cover a wide range of subjects, from sweets and bedtimes to allowed screen time to the protocol for visiting friends after school. In fact, the best house rules include a few that even parents must follow.

This article will  help parents understand why house rules are essential and how to effectively establish house rules that everyone can follow.

Understanding House Rules for Kids

House rules for kids define what children can and cannot do, including a structure of rewards and consequences. House rules often start with age-appropriate activities to establish a healthy daily routine. Brushing your teeth, staying in bed, and being polite are all early house rules that parents often establish without realizing they are building the foundation for a structured family life.

However, intentional rule-building will benefit parents more in the long-run. Especially if you plan to have multiple children where age-appropriate house rules must be fair and equal between siblings.

The Role of House Rules in Child Development

House rules are essential for three important aspects of child development: cognitive development, psychological development, and life skills. 

  • Cognitive Development: Children learn basic logic based on house rule structure, including actions, consequences, and opportunities. House rules like cleaning up and earning rewards offer opportunities for problem-solving and self-discipline to get what they want from the rules.
  • Psychological Benefits: When there are rules and structures that children can trust, they develop a sense of security and structure. Their world makes sense because the rules are always the same or evolve in a logical way as they get older.
  • Life Skills: House rules for kids can help children build good habits, life lessons, and how to maintain their well-being. They often also lay the foundations for social skills like manners, conflict resolution, and respect for others.
two girls jumping in bed

Credit: Pexels

Common Household Rules for Family Members

Parents can benefit from a checklist of common household rules to provide a basic structure for both parents and children. In addition to basic rules, plan ahead for how you will adapt these rules as young children grow up and new rules for older children become more appropriate.

  • Bedtime based on age
  • Completing the bedtime routine to get a story, lullaby, or favorite toy
  • Doing chores and homework before playtime
  • Maintain certain manners and respect others or be excused from the conversation
  • Limited social media and screen time each day
  • Earning privileges with chores and good behavior
  • Playing nicely with siblings and other children
  • Eating tidily and eating meals at the family table
  • Saying please and thank you
  • Using personal devices responsibly
  • Telling an adult when something goes wrong
  • Asking permission to visit a friend or for friends to come over

As your children grow older, set age-based thresholds for when the rules change, like a later bedtime, more screen time, or additional chores and responsibilities.

Why House Rules Matter in the Child-Parent Relationship

House rules for kids are not just to control behavior. They provide children with a sense of safety, stability, and even self-directed control over the world around them. A child who understands the rules might finish their chores quickly to get more playtime, and rewarding them for this behavior builds not just confidence, but also trust in their parents that the rules matter and good things come from following them.

  • Consistency and Stability: Consistent rules provide stability for children. They rely on the rules, learn to master them, and seek rewards for good behavior.
  • Behavior Expectations: Rules can help children learn how to behave. When following a list of rules results in positive outcomes not just in the home but at school and elsewhere (like having good manners) they learn that at-home behaviors are valuable everywhere.

Impact on Family Dynamics

Children benefit from not just following rules, but also seeing those rules followed consistently in the home. House rules for kids should also be house rules for their siblings, parents, and guests. Children benefit from seeing their parents setting rules and following them, too. Parents who are good role models by being polite and finishing chores before playtime instill trust and connection with their children.

This provides the benefit of strengthening relationships and providing a structure for conflict resolution.

  • Strengthening Relationships: Rules can improve family relationships by promoting mutual respect and trust.
  • Conflict Resolution: Having pre-defined house rules for kids and parents can help to resolve conflicts and maintain harmony. Clear rules ensure that siblings are held to the same age-group standards, consequences are fair with time limits, and even provide a structure to ‘make it right’ if one family member breaks the rules in a way that wrongs the others, like rules for how to apologize or do extra chores.
little girl brushing teeth

Credit: Pexels

How To Establish Effective House Rules

How do you build the right house rules for kids? Some rules will be set in stone, but it’s also important to involve your children in the rule-making process. As your children grow and develop, you will discover a need for rules that never occurred to you before. You may not have imagined that “no glitter in the kitchen” would be a necessary rule, but there is your child with the glitter jar, and you don’t want shiny plastic in the food.

Making rules with your children can help them understand why the rule exists and ensure that they buy into following the rule. Explain why each rule matters and the benefit that comes from following it:

  • They probably don’t want to eat shiny plastic, either, so glitter stays out of the kitchen.
  • They wouldn’t like having their hair pulled, so hair pulling isn’t allowed.
  • They appreciate short consequences, so creating a time-limit chart is mutually beneficial.

Practice kind words when talking about rules and emphasize the benefit of rules over the consequences. Help children understand that rules lead to good behavior, personal growth, and an opportunity to use the rules to thir benefit. It can help to make a printable rule list and update it as new rules evolve.

1. Set Clear and Specific Rules

Make sure your house rules for kids are clear and specific. Rules should be easy for children to understand and follow, starting from a young age. Children should also be able to repeat the rule, remind others of the rule, and explain the rule in simple words.

Even as your children grow from preschoolers to school age, clear and specific rules are always the best route. Tell them what to do, not what to be. Children may not know what “polite” means yet, but they know the words “please” and “thank you”. They may not understand when they are “being mean” but they can learn that hitting is not allowed.

Clear vs Unclear Rules

  • “Say Please and Thank You” vs “Have good manners”
  • “No hurting others” vs “Don’t be mean”
  • “Put all your toys in the basket” vs “Clean up”
  • “No shoes or food on the couch” vs “Don’t make a mess”
  • “Tell the truth” vs “Be truthful and honest”

Look at house rules for kids from your child’s perspective. Understand that you want to give directions that they know how to follow. They will learn the meaning of “polite”, “mean” and “truthful” over time. But first, the rules help them learn how to behave.

2. Use Consistent Enforcement

Consistency is key. Children are learning what matters in the world. Consistently enforcing rules helps your children take them seriously. If you care about a rule one day and don’t care the next, your child doesn’t know where they stand, and they will draw the conclusion that sometimes rules don’t matter. If you enforce rules exactly the same way every time, your child will learn structure and try to get the best possible outcomes from a stable system. This helps them understand that rules are also consistent in the real world.

Consequences should always be the same. Your children can rely on a consistent consequence structure. They can know exactly what will happen if they break a rule and they will eventually learn how to problem-solve based on the consequence structure. If the TV is turned off when they fight over the remote, they won’t fight over the remote. If extra chores are the consequence for making a mess, they’ll clean up  or even do the extra chores before you notice the mess.

Rules lawyering is one of the best signs that your child has learned the rules  and they are ready to start making the rules work for them.

3. Don’t Forget About Flexibility and Adaptation

While consistency is important, you must also prepare to be flexible and adapt as your children grow up and circumstances change. Your children will be prepared for more responsibilities and privileges as they grow. Moving to a new house may change the safety rules that are required – or no longer required – for outside play. New school activities might lead to an update on curfew and screen time.

The best way to approach this is with regular family meetings to discuss and review the house rules for kids. Invite feedback and brainstorm how new rules might work and practical consequences for breaking the new rules.

Don’t forget to set up a framework as older siblings earn new privileges. Younger siblings should be able to see their own privileges grow based on the same criteria with as close to equal fairness as possible. Just as younger siblings should take on responsibilities in parity with those privileges if the older sibling was given new chores and duties first.

4. Use Positive Reinforcement as Well

Remember that praise for following house rules for kids is just as important as consequences. Rewarding your children with appreciation for following the rules and even using the system in the right way provides positive reinforcement.

Acknowledge and praise your children when they follow the rules. Compliment them for good manners and playing nicely. Thank them for finishing their chores and homework responsibly before playing. Thank older siblings for looking out for their younger siblings when they show responsibility.

You can encourage your children to engage in rule-following behavior by creating opportunities for rewards.

  • Allow extra playtime if chores and homework are finished quickly.
  • Let children pick something for dinner if they help in the kitchen, or if they do the dishes from the meal before.
  • Allow friends over more often if they follow house rules.
  • Provide positive compliments, thanks, and hugs for good manners and patterns of good behavior.

Dealing With Challenges

Of course, maintaining house rules for kids is not always easy. Parents usually deal with phases of resistance, defiance, and sometimes open rebellion. Children refuse, tantrum, take shortcuts, lie, fight consequences, and demand special treatment. This is a natural part of child development. Children test boundaries. Their sense of fairness doesn’t always line up. They may not understand the rules or following certain rules might be harder for one child than another.

These times can be tough, but consistency is still key. Parents will need patience, resilience, communication skills, and adaptability to face these challenges when they arise.

House Rules for Odd Child (Oppositional Defiant Disorder)

Not all children follow the rules with the same ease. One child might be a people-pleaser who loves to be polite. Another might be surly, introverted, or even have special needs that make the rules more difficult to follow or understand.

It may be necessary to tailor the rules as your multiple children develop so that the house rules for kids meet the needs of all your kids. Household meetings can help find an agreement that works for everyone. It’s also OK to seek specialized help when dealing with a special child.

Conflict Resolution Techniques

Be prepared for conflict resolution. Fights about rules are normal, and some development phases directly relate to testing boundaries and strong emotions. The two skills that will help you most are communication and mediation.

  • Communication: Open communication can help you resolve disputes about household rules. Be prepared to ask your child why they object to the rule, talk about why you set the rule, and discuss the best path to resolution. Talking it out can help children understand why the rule exists. Feeling words can help your child express why the rule makes them upset. Then you can come up with a structure that works for everyone..
  • Mediation: When there are conflicts between siblings or between parents and children, mediation can help you get through. Giving everyone a chance to state their perspective and carefully exploring the problem can reveal a resolution and reduce the strong feelings involved. 
pillow fight in bed, between brother and sister

Credit: Pexels

Building a Foundation with Your House Rules for Kids

When parents set house rules, they are building a foundation for their children. Setting and maintaining a practical set of rules, discussing why the rules exist, and building new rules together shows children how things work in the real world. They learn which behaviors provide positive and negative consequences. They learn to trust in their parents and how fairness is rooted in consistency. Then they learn how to make the rules at home and outside the home work in their favor, by following the rules the right way.

Setting rules for kids is one of the best things you can do as a parent to build a family bond and prepare your children for the world beyond. As you introduce new household rules, focus on practicality and consistency. Revisit rules over time and emphasize positive outcomes from following the rules. Doing this will provide long-term benefits for your children’s development and your family’s harmony.

Get expert guidance on setting house rules for your kids! Join our online parenting classes and learn from experienced professionals how to establish rules that work for your family. Enroll now! Plus, meet Sophie, our clever AI parenting assistant, available 24/7 to answer all your parenting questions and offer support anytime you need it.


Driscoll, L. C. (2013). Parenting Styles and Self-Esteem. Scripps Senior Theses. 155.

Innis, G. (2012, May 06). Boundaries and expectations are important parenting tools. Michigan State University Extension.

Li, L., Britvan, B., & Tomasello, M. (2021). Young children conform more to norms than to preferences. PloS one, 16(5), e0251228.

Mensah, M. K., & Kuranchie, A. (2013). Influence of Parenting Styles on the Social Development of Children. Academic Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, 2(3), 123 – 129.

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