Families can be a source of chaos, with disagreements and conflicts arising regularly. As families grow and evolve, it’s easy for chaos to creep in. With different personalities, needs, and schedules, it can be challenging to maintain order and establish a sense of routine. Establishing family rules can help create a more orderly family life, providing structure and promoting a healthier family dynamic.
Rules do not apply only in schools and workplaces. At home, they provide predictability and boundaries for family members, including parents and children, where everyone knows what is expected of them. This can reduce conflict and create a more harmonious family environment.
Family rules are guidelines for behaviour that are agreed upon by all members of the family. It can be as simple or complex as needed and cover various topics, from household chores to homework to inter-familial interactions. They should be realistic and achievable, designed to promote positive behaviour. For example, a rule could be that all family members must put away electronic devices during mealtimes or attend all important family functions.
Here are some steps that families can take to establish effective family rules:
Make it a collaborative process: Involving all family members in establishing structure and family rules is essential. This gives everyone a say in the rules and helps ensure they are age-appropriate, reasonable and realistic. It also promotes unity and teamwork as it helps to instil a sense of ownership and accountability for the rules.
Keep it simple: Family rules should be simple, few and easy to understand. Keep to under 10. Avoid using complex language that may confuse children.
Adopt a positive posture: Instead of focusing on what family members cannot do, focus on what they can do. For example, don’t say “no fighting”; instead, say “use kind actions.” Positive language is more motivating and encourages positive behaviour.
Setting consequences: It is equally important that each family member understands the consequences if they breach the family rules. Consequences need to be realistic and enforceable. Don’t say “grounded forever” or “throw away the handphone” as that would be difficult to implement. Rather say, “grounded or confiscate handphone for X days”.
Family rules and consequences should be applied consistently and applicable to all, including parents. When everyone knows what is expected of them, and when there are clear consequences for negative behaviour, it can be easier to resolve conflicts and avoid arguments.
Re-establishing Rules after Divorce
It’s important to remember that structure and rules can be adjusted when needed, particularly when there are changes within the family system. Changes to family functioning can happen when a family member leaves the family by way of illness, going overseas for work or study, death, or even divorce when they can no longer perform their function in the family or adhere to the family rules. The family would naturally seek to re-create a new equilibrium, with new structures and rules.
In the case of divorcing families, it is not uncommon that children take over some roles and responsibilities of parents prior to and during divorce, for a time. Some older children help to care for their younger siblings, others become caregivers to their parents who may be struggling with their emotions, yet others may compromise school to work to supplement household incomes.
Everyone involved, especially children, may feel overwhelmed by the sudden whirlwind of changes in their lives. Re-establishing healthy family rules can be an effective way to rebuild an orderly life after a divorce and help children feel more secure. The sooner the new structure and rules are formed, the faster the recovery for its members. By working together to establish and adhere to these rules, families can re-create a sense of unity and restore normalcy to help them navigate the challenges of divorce more effectively.
How can you know if your family will thrive after divorce or even death or illness? What can you do to help rebuild healthier families after adverse life events? One way to gain more insights into your family’s dynamics is through counselling. The counsellor works with you and your family to develop alternative ways of interaction to restore healthier family functioning. If your family is struggling with chaos and conflict, consider reaching out to us to help you identify and implement effective family rules.
Written by: June Leo, Senior Social Worker, Fei Yue Community Services
Contact us via [email protected] or call us at 62355229. We provide counselling and programmes for families.