As we approach one year since the first stay-at-home orders, and families likely still have a few more weeks/months of living, working, and schooling in close quarters, here are some rules to help you get to the finish line.

Family rules are important, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. Simple, easily understood rules provide structure and set expectations for family members, which leads to a more harmonious living environment. It is essential all members of the family be allowed to participate in the development of house rules and consequences. This will provide each person an element of “buy-in” or an acceptance of and willingness to support and participate in the family rules. Consideration also needs to be given to the amount of time set aside for weekly meetings depending on the age of children involved.

Five house rules that are generally applicable to all families:

(1) being polite and respectful

(2) good hygiene (for reduced virus spread)

(3) technological (cell phones/iPads, computers) limits

(4) household chores, and

(5) family dinners

To ensure less opportunities for misunderstandings, these five rules need to fit the age of the children in the home. 

Being polite and respectful for a toddler may involve saying please and/or thank you. For a teenager, it may include asking permission before leaving the house or not using insulting/obscene language. In the case of an adult child who has moved back home, the rule may be to inform parents before leaving home and when they will return.

In this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, good hygiene is of paramount importance. Clear and concise guidelines for hand washing, social distancing and face masks are necessary for all ages. Parents need to be in agreement and present a united front about how these rules will be implemented in the various environments such as childcare, school, extracurricular activities, and holiday events.

Technological limits need to be explicitly stated and modeled by parents. Examples of rules to consider include no phone use during dinner time, one or two hours of leisure screen time per day, and no cell phones/iPads in the bedroom after 11:00pm at night; or if excessive use is particularly problematic, leave electronic devices in a specific place after entering the house. Monitoring computer use, particularly laptops, presents a challenge since so many children have access to them in their bedrooms, particularly during the pandemic for online education. If family rules about computer use are not followed, parental controls can be used to limit screen time and for content filtering. A tremendous resource for families is Netsmartz, a nonprofit organization funded by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that provides free information about online citizenship, safety, cyberbullying, sexting, social media, etc.

There should be clear expectations for household chores for parents and children. It is important children learn, beginning at an early age, to contribute to the family by performing household tasks. It may be helpful to make a list of necessary chores and then allow family members to choose the tasks they are most interested in doing. Flexibility can be built into the system by allowing for decisions related to frequency/time to be made by the person responsible for the chore. A white board is an efficient way to visually organize household chores and serves as a visual reminder.

Family dinners provide opportunities for parents to role model healthy eating and good table manners. Emotional and social benefits to family dinners include opportunities to strengthen relationships and nurture a sense of belong. Allowing children to assist with meal planning and preparation may make it a more fun and enjoyable activity.

Another important factor in maintaining successful family rules is having clearly defined, immediate consequences for rule infractions. Rewarding positive behavior is preferable and more effective than negative consequences like punishment. Again, depending on the age of the children, a token reward system can be implemented so they can earn points/stickers/etc. by doing their chores to turn in for a prize at the end of the week. The prizes can vary from an ice cream treat to more leisure screen time. If positive reinforcement is unsuccessful, consideration can be given to strategies such as time out or loss of privileges.

Family rules provide all members of the family, young and old, a way to work together for the good of the family. It nurtures responsibility and a sense of togetherness. To be most effective, the rules need to be clear and concise with mutually agreed upon consequences for infractions. Beginning or ending with a fun activity will help the concept of rule setting be more palatable.