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SAFE HARBOR #3: Rules and Consequences

Make clear rules and enforce them with consistency and appropriate consequences:

  • Draw clear lines between what is allowed and what isn’t allowed.
  • Include your child in deciding what the rules are and what will happen if they are broken.
  • Build respect and trust by being fair and consistent.
  • Make and explain a rule against underage alcohol use.
  • Reward your child for not breaking the rules.

Why is it important to set rules for your child and to stand by the rules you have set?

Discipline from parents helps children learn self-discipline, which helps them live happy and healthy lives.

Parents who set and stick by the rules show their children that they are cared for.

Children are less likely to experiment with alcohol when their parents set a clear rule forbidding underage alcohol use and give reasons for this rule.

Rules provide children with a safe framework in which to take healthy risks.

Draw clear lines between what is allowed and what isn’t allowed. Rules are useful for schoolwork, chores, behavior at home, and behavior outside the home. Make clear rules and also be clear about what will happen if the rules are broken. Consequences should take into account your child’s age and personality and the seriousness of the situation. Consequences should also make sense. For example, if you say homework must be done before going out to play, a consequence of breaking the rule is no more outside play that day. Don’t forget to offer rewards or extra privileges for following the rules. Adapt your rules and consequences as your child gets older or situations change.

Include your child in deciding what the rules are and what will happen if they are broken. There are two benefits that come from allowing your child to suggest and comment on family rules. First, the chances are better that your child will follow the rules. Second, you are showing respect for your child’s opinions. This inclusion builds a stronger relationship between the two of you and can make your child more willing to abide by your rules. Use your discussions about rules to teach your child the consequences of decisions.

Build respect and trust by being fair and consistent. If your child breaks the rules, enforce the consequence you have set. Otherwise, your child will come to believe that your rules are not that important and that it is okay to break them. Also, if you sometimes do not follow through, your child will tend to test other rules to see if they can be broken without consequence as well. Do not make changes to the rules based on your mood or in reaction to an upsetting incident. If you need to change the rules or consequences, talk with your child before you make any changes. If you are fair, your child will see that and be more likely to respect the rules.

Make and explain a rule against underage alcohol use. Tell your child that underage alcohol use is not acceptable and explain why. Talk about your family values and how underage alcohol use does not fit into those values. Also talk about the special dangers of alcohol to the growing body. Explain to your child that the rule is about protection, not control. Let your child know that you will support him or her in every way to resist any pressure to drink alcohol.

Reward your child for not breaking the rules. Use every opportunity you get to praise and reward your child for following the rules. Your positive response will help your child develop self-confidence and trust in his or her own judgment. It also makes the child want to continue to follow the rules.

When your child takes risks …

Some risky behavior, such as underage alcohol use, is unhealthy. Other risks, such as trying out for a sports team or meeting a new student at school, are healthy.

New challenges and situations allow children to stretch their abilities and expand their knowledge. When your child is thinking about taking a healthy risk, you can:

  • Help your child sort out the pros and cons of the risk;
  • Offer moral support;
  • Offer concrete support (such as coaching or transportation);
  • Praise and reward success; and
  • Help your child to understand and learn the lessons that come with failure.