Most families have some rules. And that’s a good thing. Family rules, if based on fairness, create a sense of safety for everyone in the family. In addition, a few family rules help kids engage and wire up the thinking part of their brains, which will help them regulate their own emotions over time. Engaging the thinking brain can keep aggressive, impulsive reactions in check.

Rules can include things like no hitting, no swearing, and no damaging property as well as respecting others. Family rules simply define what is—and is not—allowed in a specific family. Family rules apply to everybody in the family, not just the kids or one family member.

Children will need to be rewarded for following family rules. Praise them when they are on track. It’s important for children aged five and over to know and receive the consequences for breaking a family rule. Having known consequences follow misbehavior engages the thinking part of a child’s brain and does not activate the fear and rage systems.

Including older children in the process of creating family rules helps them learn how to treat others and be treated fairly. Older children will be more likely to “buy in” if they are part of the team that creates the rules. In addition, most older children will make constructive contributions if given the opportunity.

When family rules are based on goodwill, give and take, and respect for others, children know what to expect and sense fairness in their family. Don’t worry that you will need to make rule after family rule to cover every little contingency. You actually couldn’t if you tried. If you develop a list of just a few rules in your family, each will be seen as important aspects of your family’s expectations.

More to consider: The brain is working . . .

When you use choices and consequences, a child’s brain learns how to reflect, consider, negotiate, and weigh all options. Choices and consequences given in a calm, quiet, respectful voice encourage the development of connecting to thinking before reacting.