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Creating Rules that Work

One of the questions I get asked the most frequently is 'Why won't my child just the simple things like brushing her teeth or getting in the bath?'


Do you have these frustrations?


As many of you know, when Nico my eldest was 2 ½ we got help with our parenting as he was such a challenging child. It was suggested that we have some clearer rules around the house.

I didn’t like the idea of having rules as it felt too much like school and I wanted him to feel ‘free’ at home and for us to have some 'spontaneity' and anyway, I thought he should just know what's expected.

After all, we asked the same thing of him every day 'get dressed, eat breakfast, stay in bed at bedtime...' so shouldn't he just do it?

What I realised through the coaching we got was that we had an expectation that he would do what we asked without a fuss, and when he didn’t we’d ask 5 times or more, each time getting more and more frustrated until we’d wind up shouting.

What was the impact of shouting? He would either:

· Shout back

· Run off in the opposite direction

· Or cry and then I’d feel terrible

And that meant we were back to square one.


Getting help to get to grips with our rules was a game-changer. It didn't mean that life was perfect at all, but it really reduced the nagging and shouting.

So here are my 10 top tips for creating a set of rules that work for you:

  • Begin by deciding together to tackle one or two things that you consistently wind up nagging about – this is typically things like getting dressed, sitting at the table to eat, trying new foods, staying in bed at bedtime, tidying up toys….
  • Once you’ve decided on those two things, then break them down further and agree on exactly what you want to happen.
  • Ask yourself;  'Do I want my child to come to the table to eat without running off and sit for 15 minutes? Or 'Do I want my child to get his shoes on when it is time to leave the house?'
  • Think realistically about your child and their stage of development and level of maturity. Sometimes we under-estimate what they are capable of and sometimes we over-estimate.
  • Taking mealtimes as an example. For a toddler who has high energy levels, I would expect them only to be able to stay still for about 10 minutes. An older child can do longer but will still need a lot of positive encouragement to do so.
  • Sit with your child and talk about the one or two hot spots you want to sort out. Ask what they think the rules are. This will give you lots of information. Very often we think the rules are clear to our children but we find out they aren’t.
  • Depending on your child’s level of understanding you might want to work on agreeing on a set of rules rather than just telling them what the rules are. So for example with bedtime you can ask if they want a bit of time to play before you have a story, or whether they want one or two stories. Make whatever you decide on a rule.
  • Once you have agreed on what the rule is you need to break it down further. So ‘eating nicely at dinner time’ or ‘going to bed without a fuss’ isn’t clear enough. You need to break it down into components so dinner time would be
    • Come to wash our hands before dinner 
    • Sit on our chair
    • Use a knife and fork
    • Keep 4 legs of the chair on the floor
    • Use two hands to drink our water
    • Keep the plate in front of us even if we don’t want to eat something
    • Try the food even if we think we don’t like it
    • Use a fork to eat our food from
    • Eat as much as we can manage
    • Ask to leave the table
    • Put our plate on the side (or in the dishwasher)
  • Next get your child to get involved in writing the rules down. It doesn't need to look perfect and they can just do a scribble but make it colourful and child-friendly. Make sure you write the rules in the positive.
  • We can then use this list as a reference and can praise our child for following them. It is amazing how motivated they are once we start to notice and praise them for what they are doing right.
  • You can use your chart to give them ticks or stickers and those can add up to something that you are prepared to give them. I much prefer non-material rewards like a game, an extra story, a tv programme or even just extra stickers.


If you'd like help creating rules and routines that lead to a calmer, happier, easier family life then do book a call with me 

Or  Email me [email protected] to tell me how you are getting on. I love to hear from you

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