Setting family rules that work

Communication and Discipline   ›   Setting family rules that work

Setting good family rules is also about providing a framework to guide your kids and help them on their path towards becoming adults. However, there are many things to consider to make sure your disciplinary rule actually works.

Rules are More Efficient when Related to Values

A family rule is a limit, a structure, a standard, an educational outlook, as well as a reflection of the family’s values. Values have personal meaning for each of us. They inspire our actions, our decisions, and they’re different from one family to the next. When your teen makes you doubt yourself by saying that their friend’s parents are a lot less strict than you are, don’t worry about it! Every family has different rules because they focus on different values!


To be effective, family rules generally need to be linked to values. Why? Because this allows you to explain to your teen the reason for different rules at home. It’s a lot easier to accept a rule when we can see the point of it.


For example, “everyone should pick up after themselves and clear their own plate after dinner”. On top of being a reference and a structure, this rule reflects certain values: respecting others, cleanliness, and accountability.


Different Outlooks on the Importance of Rules at Home

A parent may choose to see discipline in the follow ways:


  • As a learning opportunity for their teen to understand problem-solving strategies, which will be useful to them in other areas of their lives. It can also help them learn how to sort between acceptable and unacceptable behaviours
  • As support; teenagers need support on their path towards adulthood and self-discipline
  • As an act of love; discipline also shows your child you love them!


The 5 Cs of Efficient Disciplinary Rules


The rule represents one or several values that are important to me and the other parent. They’re easy to understand for teens, who know exactly what we expect of them (when, where, and why), and what will happen if improper behaviour occurs.



The behaviour it targets is simple, precise, and the goal of the rule is known in advance. It must be specific. For example ‘being responsible’ or ‘showing maturity’ does not mean much to a teen, and it isn’t really tangible. Whereas ‘Respect your curfew’ is much more concrete and understandable.



It should not contradict another rule. This could create confusion or give your teen an opportunity to get around rules because they’re incoherent. It’s also important for parents to respect the rules they expect others to follow. If they say that cell phones aren’t allowed at the table during meals, then they should also follow that rule.



Regularity is often the hardest part of applying rules at home. Being constant means setting rules that define expected behaviour and that will call out unacceptable behaviour each time it happens, and always in the same way. This makes understanding the rule easier and helps make teens feel more secure, since they can predict the adult’s behaviour. You should never change rules on a whim! That would just open the floodgates to challenging the structure of all your rules, especially for teens.



There need to be consequences directly related to the behaviour in question if a rule is not respected. Otherwise, teens know that they’ve got nothing to lose by not sticking to the rules. 


Here’s an example that shows the 5 Cs: “I’d like you to be in bed by 9 p.m. on weekdays, from Monday to Thursday, because you have school the next day and I think it’s important for you to pay attention in class and be well rested. I expect the same thing from your brothers and sisters. Each time you’re not in bed by 9 p.m., you’ll have to be in bed an hour earlier the next day”. 


Why can Applying Rules be Challenging?

Getting to know the pitfalls of discipline also means being aware of our own values and needs, as well as the way we’re communicating those to our teens. There are several reasons why it could be hard to maintain the rules you set for your teen.



Emotions can quickly take over in certain situations. Sometimes, this means that applying necessary discipline can be more complicated, even if they’re actions that parents have set themselves.


Wanting to be Loved at any Cost

A parent’s desire to be loved at all costs can make situations where they need to discipline their teen more difficult. Upset teens can sometimes give the impression that they don’t love their parents anymore. It can then be tempting for parents to answer to their child’s emotions rather than to their own needs.


Living Vicariously through Children

It can be tempting to see your child as an extension of yourself and to ask them, whether explicitly or implicitly, to fulfill your own dreams, and to surpass your failures. Imposing your dreams can be frustrating for a teen, as well as for yourself. This could even lead to them rejecting some disciplinary rules by thinking that they are not justified. 


Thinking that the Consequences are Already Effective

Establishing consequences takes a while. Parents should try the same strategy several times before giving up on it. Consequences rarely bring about the immediate changes we’re looking for, especially if the unacceptable behaviour has been around for a while!


Taking Things Personally

Sometimes it can be tempting to mistake certain behaviours in our children’s development for insults. If these behaviours are interpreted as personal attacks, then you may see your teen in a  negative light, which could then influence future actions and the emotional relationship between you and your child. 


Wanting to be the Perfect Parent

Wanting to feel competent is totally normal. However, when it gets too extreme, this need can become an expectation of being the perfect parent that follows the instruction manual to a tee. It’s particularly hard when that manual doesn’t exist! This can sometimes push parents to feel a lot of insecurity about their disciplinary actions, or about their emotional relationship with their teen.


Fear of a Child Distancing Themselves

It can sometimes be difficult to accept the fact that our teens need to learn to be more independent, and that their relationship with us will change. This can upset our need to feel that our teen needs us. It can then become very difficult to support them in their efforts at autonomy and self-assertion.


Fear of Losing Power

There’s often a fine line between discipline and control, and between boundaries and power. The disciplinary relationship with your teens can become a real battlefield. Whether or not they know it, parents may end up choosing to apply disciplinary actions in response to emotional frustration or to spite their child when they don’t like certain behaviours. This could lead to teens being closed off, intolerant, and rebelling against their parents.


Are your family rules not being respected? Has your teen crossed the line yet again? Learn more about questioning things and disrespecting rules at home during teenage years.