Sometimes parents feel all they do is enforce family rules and arbitrate kids’ battles. Usually three reasons explain a parent’s frustration when this is the case: (1) ambiguous rules, (2) inconsistent follow-through with consequences, and (3) children’s wishes for a little parental interaction. Let’s take a quick look at these big three.

To be effective, family rules need to be clear and stated in a positive way. This means that everyone involved needs to understand the rules, and parents need to tell children what to do rather than focus on what not to do. It is better to state, “Ask before you use Jennifer’s stuffed animals” rather than “Don’t get into your sister’s stuff.”

Create consequences you will be willing to apply, if necessary. When you make a family rule, decide ahead of time what you will be willing to do if the rule gets broken. If you don’t follow through with the consequences for a given rule, children will learn to ignore the rule.

Acknowledge good behavior. Children want a parent’s attention, and they will do what they need to do to be noticed and acknowledged. Look for good behaviors and praise them when you see them. Be proactive, so your child’s wish to be noticed by you is given before he or she resorts to breaking a rule to get your attention.

If you want to retire as referee to your children’s battles, start by making clear rules, consistent consequences, and noticing your children’s positive behaviors.