We live in a world of special needs and extenuating circumstances that can make black-and-white rules difficult. But making up all rules as we go is a recipe for chaos.

Here are some ideas for staying fair while maintaining orderly consistency:

Keep Rules in Manageable Quantity

There will, of course, be times when you have to tell dissenting kids, “I’m sorry, but this is the rule, even if you don’t understand the reasons for it.” But limit such statements to matters of ethics, safety, and basic civility—which are not necessarily measured by dress styles, curfews, or traditions. If you make arbitrary rules covering every situation, kids not only get annoyed and defiant, they may genuinely forget many rules in the mountain of information. (How often do you really “read and understand” an entire online privacy policy?)

Give the Kids Some Voice in the Rules

  • If you have a new class, a new house, a new car, or any other situation that calls for a new set of rules or major adjustments to old ones, have every stakeholder of talking age sit down for a brainstorming session and a vote.
  • If kids come to you to request a change in existing rules, really listen to and consider the request—and even if you turn it down, commend the kids for their maturity and responsibility in asking.
  • If you find yourself regularly making exceptions to the rules, something is wrong either with group dynamics, or with the rules themselves. Call a family meeting to figure out the problem and choose a solution.

Once Rules Are Made, Stick to Them

just one time please


With the best of rules, there will be the occasional time when someone wheedles for an exception “just this once” out of a yearning for instant gratification. Even if the argument sounds reasonable, consider carefully whether giving in will serve the long-term good. Every time you say “Okay, but just this once” to avoid a scene, you send the message that the rule and all it represents aren’t really very important.

And remember, rules apply to you, too! Don’t ever be the parent who lectures for twenty minutes if a child lies to her, then, informed an hour later that a boring acquaintance is on the phone, says to that same child, “Tell her I’m not in.”

Have Consequences for Breaking Rules

All consequences, like rules themselves, should be:

  • Agreed upon, and made clear, in advance
  • Suitable to the situation
  • Implemented without lengthy talk or heated emotion
  • Made to be kept, not re-argued at every point of discomfort
consoling child

Establishing consequences in advance will also help you avoid the trap of shouting “You’re grounded for a month” in a moment of anger, and then having to choose between admitting the punishment was unreasonable or quietly “forgetting” about it. (If you do get caught there, swallow your pride and choose the former option—presuming you want your kids to retain respect for rules and for you.)

Remember That Rules Serve a Greater Purpose

That purpose is to teach values while maintaining order and strong community. Keep that in mind to keep rules effective.