Consistency in just about every task parents perform relevant to the children is a sign of good parenting. Today’s world is not like “back in the old days.” It never is. The world we live in is fast-paced and full of technology. It is loaded now, more than ever, with interests that require little or no activity for children to be heavily engaged. That’s not necessarily a good thing given the childhood obesity crisis that faces many today. If you have a post-divorce, mixed-family, it’s even more important to maintain consistency both within the household and across households.  If your child custody situation is one that is high conflict, well then you need to do your level best to create consistency in your home even if the other parent is not “on board” with establishing appropriate boundaries with and expectations of children.

The best way to achieve consistency and let children know exactly what your expectations are of them is to come up with the rules together as a family. It can be done. It can be fun. It is a vast improvement over one-way communication, dictating to the children, repeating the same things over and over again, and so on.  This is especially true after a divorce when the child custody arrangement can severely limit the time you have together with the children.

We separate our tips into two broad age categories. Toddler – age 12 (Part 1). Age 13 – 17 (Part 2). This is not intended to be a hard-and-fast breakdown. Depending upon the development of the children, their needs, the child custody arrangement – there may certainly be some overlap. Even within each specific category, you may need to tailor your efforts to your children’s specific environment and mental development.

The ground rules:

  • There are no “stupid ideas.” As with any brainstorming session, everything is in play.
  • Respect, kindness, and consideration are expected. Everyone should listen to the ideas and chime-in as appropriate with their thoughts.
  • Everyone should understand that the rules list is intended to be a core of understanding and not an all-inclusive list. No one is to believe that because something is not on the list, a problem won’t be addressed when it occurs. (Usually, you will find that your list will serve as a guide to address non-listed issues anyway.)

Toddler – Age 12

Our experience has been that within this age group lots of fun and laughter accompanied the discussions about the serious matters that are put on the table. As children advance beyond their youngest years, they do truly have a good understanding of what is right and wrong. They also have, believe it or not, a good understanding of what makes a good reward or punishment… with a little “guidance.” After everyone is aware of the forthcoming exercise, it starts with a simple question:

What rules do think we should list that are the most important in the interests of fairness and respect to everyone in the household?

At first, you’re not concerned with consequences. You want to start a dialogue to find out what issues of respect, help, fairness, etc. are important to the children. As the parents, you guide the discussion and keep everyone focused so that you don’t stray too far from the objective. Always reinforce and encourage with positive language, such as:

That’s a very good one! Tell us why you think that’s important.

Great start! Does anyone have anything to add?

That’s a wonderful idea, let’s put it on the list and see who else has one!

You don’t want to create a book of rules and consequences. Limit your effort to what you all come to agree would be the best, perhaps 8, 10, or 12. You may want to come to the table with an idea of what you would like them to be, kept to yourself, of course. It’s not wrong to steer them towards the outcome you seek. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that they offer some suggestions you hadn’t considered.

Then, the fun truly begins.

Ask the children what they believe would be an appropriate consequences should be for breaking the rules. Our experience was that they had some genuinely appropriate suggestions to go along with some that are particularly funny. If you don’t get some of the following examples from the children, here are some you will likely suggest:

  • A time-out and a talking-to where age appropriate.
  • Severely curtailed or eliminated television time for a period of time. This will range from a day to a week depending upon the severity of the infraction.
  • Severely curtailed or eliminated computer or video game time for a period of time.
  • Loss of an evening treat.
  • Moving bedtime up an hour earlier than normal.

It’s important to remember that whatever the consequences are, they should be memorable and involve something that is valuable to the child(ren). If the consequence is not both memorable and involve something of value to the children, then your rule and your consequence will be rendered ineffective.

In How to Create a Family Rules List – Part 2, we’ll make suggestions for the often tumultuous teenage years – where roles, responsibilities, and opportunities seem to be in state of constant change.