The Art of Rule Setting

Leaders and Organizations are taking classes for Goal Setting but it really begins at home. Gift your family this important Life Skill this New Year.
Though this article has been written from a standpoint of problem behaviour the principles equally apply to positive behaviours with reward as a consequence. Setting and implementing the rules is a hard task but its rewards are many. Rule setting doesn’t mean not loving your child or putting terms and conditions on all their actions. It will not only ensure a better equipped child but also better connection between you and your child and less unnecessary yelling in the long run. In the beginning children will try every trick in the book to bend the rules but once they understand that’s not possible and they are for their own good they will follow.

Stating the Obvious: Stating the rules makes it clear as to what is expected of them rather than focusing on the negative aspect. In my clinical practice I have found that getting this one step implemented resolves many unnecessary conflicts. For example; during one of the consultations a client said “it irks me when I get delayed for an outing because my children are taking time to get ready” while the adolescent’s version of the same scenario was “He gets angry for no reason.” What’s no reason for an adolescent maybe a huge deal for a parent. Laying down the rules bridges this gap and fosters understanding.

Participation:  It has to be a family activity as mentioned in the last post. Everybody in the household including grandparents and kids should participate in the Rule Setting process. If you have a nanny for your kids it will be a good idea to involve her too. It ensures everyone knows the rule, agrees to the consequences and will help in its implementation. 

Deciding the Consequences: It is important to decide the consequences of not following the rules along with the setting of rules. Rules are more likely to be followed if there is a consequence to it. Invite the child in choosing the consequences so that it doesn’t look unfair to them. Also they are more likely to follow if they themselves choose the consequences. It helps a child understand that it’s his/her actions that are responsible rather than an unreasonable parent yelling and meting out punishment.
Give them options. Make sure that the options are one which you will be able to implement and that holds certain importance for your child. For example: My son was given the options of not viewing TV, not going down to play or no bed time stories on the days he hits someone. I knew he would chose No TV which is what I wanted.
The consequence could be writing extra 2 pages of cursive writing or making the bed. Some would advocate visiting the temple with parents or meditation. All these are good but the question is are they easy to implement? Maybe schools could implement sending the child to mindfulness/yoga room but will you be able to implement it at home? In my view if you have to yell to get the consequences implemented it is self-defeating.
Deciding the consequences is a very individualistic process; important to remember is you should be able to implement it without having to constantly yell at your child.

Linking Behaviour to Consequence: We want the problematic behaviour to be replaced with expected one. For that to happen the behaviour in question should be the target and not the child as an individual.
The link between consequence and action should be clear to the child. So for young children it’s advisable that consequences immediately follow the behavior. Also we will need to reiterate it’s because they have broken the rule.  The idea is that they get it deep within that their actions have consequences and the consequence can be changed by altering the action. A very important life skill.

Be Reasonable: When setting the rules and consequences be fair. For example one of my friends keeps the toys outside the home if her kid fails to keep his toys in place. The child has the option of bringing them back in and keeping them in place. Do not set too many rules together. Take one or two behaviors which you want to address. Take child’s perspective into account, hear them out before deciding the consequences. Explain the rationale and the benefits to the child like “Mom will no longer be yelling at you”. Don’t make the consequences a forever thing. If your child’s screen time is excessive you can just cut down half hour as a consequence or maybe withdraw a certain favorite cartoon/serial. We often say “I am not going to talk to you”, add “for the next 10 minutes.” It makes it easy for you to keep your word, increasing your respect in your child’s eye.

Specificity: A consequence should be specific to a rule. The reason so that the child understands that it is a particular behavior that is bringing forth the consequence. If the same consequence is meted out for every aberrant behavior child will not be able to connect the link between behavior and consequence. Also he/she may start thinking that nothing they do is good enough. Example: allowing the child to watch TV for a specified time even if he didn’t study because that consequence has been decided for hitting people. Some other consequence can be decided for not studying.

Consistency: Consequences have to be implemented every time the rule is broken. And this will require an understanding among all family members including grandparents. If mother is trying to reinforce the consequences and Grandfather says “Leave him this time”; it’s not going to work. If you slip one day you will find it extra hard to get the rule implemented. Family has to be one unit and a constant reliable structure builds a sense of security and stability into them. Consistency is the key to success here as in all arenas.

Review: There should be periodical meetings (maybe once a fortnight) to appreciate the progress and make necessary changes. Avoid making changes too frequently. Deciding on a change should be based on observable facts and there should be reasonable agreement amongst all. For 4 months we have implemented the rule successfully. I am going to hold a review meeting soon. Will let you all know how it goes on my facebook page.

Expectancy: Though rule setting is a process, one of the key factors which will see them implemented is how confident you are about the whole exercise. If you set the rules thinking “I don’t think it’s going to work”, it most probably won’t. If you don’t expect your children to follow through, that’s what you will get. If you give away your power to your kids they are less likely to listen to you. So take up the exercise with confidence and authority.

Lead by example: This is one point I am going to hammer again and again and again. When you are setting the rules set one for yourself too along with consequences and follow through. Your children are more likely to follow, less likely to sulk at the new routine and you will realize achieving that New Year resolution isn’t so hard after all.

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About Dr. Mona Choudhary

After MBBS, I did my MD(Psychiatry) from PGIMER, Dr. RML Hospital, New Delhi now a Centre of Excellence in Mental Health. As a Consultant Psychiatrist I view my clients as persons and not merely an illness to be fixed. I assess and treat various mental health disorders with the goal of making my clients more resilient. My current focus of work is Parental well being and guidance as it can significantly improve quality of life and shape our kids to withstand pressure and excel in their lives.
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8 thoughts on “The Art of Rule Setting

  1. Your suggestions are very helpful for raising kids in today’s time. The article shows the kind of effort that has gone into this. Raising a child is not an easy task and these articles are really helpful.

  2. Wonderful article.
    Raising kids into disciplined confident individuals is very difficult…. as a parent I am having to unlearn so much and change my behaviour, thinking and attitude. ‘Child is father of man’ is so true.
    Rules are the same for all… hence I like the concept of having action and agreed upon consequences for kids as well as adults. It’s only fair. The challenge is being consistent… no slip ups allowed. Will implement this on both my kids and myself.
    Thanks for this insight. Made me reflect a lot.

    1. Thanks Ruchika for your feedback. Do let me know how it goes. Consistency is the key. I would caution not to be overambitious and take one rule at a time. Over time it becomes cumulative. For any help you can always reach out to me through facebook(Parentingmantra),email, phone or in person. All the best.

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