Establishing boundaries

Rules – who needs them, right? Well, turns out we all do. Clear, unambiguous rules and consequences mean children and young people know what’s expected of them, and adults can be consistent in the way they treat younger family members.

Talk about it as a family

Kids need to know what you expect of them so they know what appropriate behaviour looks like. Involving children and young people in setting basic family rules gives everyone more ownership over the process.

As a family, think about the sorts of rules that will help you all get on well together. Rules don’t have to be negative – try framing them as positive statements about how you’ll look after and respect each other.

These might include things like talking to each other rather than shouting, asking before borrowing things, putting away games and toys after playing with them, or taking turns to wash up after dinner.

Why all the rules?

Providing reasons for why you’ve made a rule – for example, we need the lights out at this time so you can get enough sleep – helps kids to accept their limits without becoming defensive. It also gives them an understanding of what you expect of them in other similar situations.

As children get older, they can get more involved in the decision-making process, as well as setting the consequences for breaking them. This involvement helps young people take responsibility for their own behaviour.

Establishing consequences

If kids bend or break the rules, give them a clear reminder and a chance to change their behaviour. If they repeatedly ignore these reminders, you might need to bring in the big guns – consequences!

Examples of consequences include:

For younger kids

  • Withdrawal from the situation (quiet time) – use when behaviour is unsafe or disruptive. 
  • Withdrawal of privileges – use when an activity or toy is being misused or neglected. For example, remove a toy that has been used in an unsafe way.

For older kids

  • Withdrawal from the situation (grounding) – use when behaviour is unsafe. For example, driving in cars with P-platers who have been drinking.
  • Withdrawal of privileges – use when an activity or device is being misused or over-used. For example, remove internet access if homework hasn’t been done.

Focus on the positives

Providing rewards for positive behaviour is equally important. When kids do what you have asked and meet expectations, be sure to notice it and praise or thank them. 

For younger kids, checklists and reward charts can be useful for keeping track of positive behaviour. 


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