How to Set Sensible Family Rules

How to respond when your child notices your family's rules are different from the ones a friend follows.

By Michelle Anthony, PhD




Have you been hearing complaints about a classmate who has fewer chores, stays up later, has a bigger allowance, or is allowed to eat junk food? Around age 7 or 8, children begin to notice differences between the expectations in their own home versus their friends’ homes. Although it’s not a simple issue, addressing these complaints can help your child learn to navigate a world where everyone is different.

Talk About Values

By this age, children comprehend that their own perspective on an event is not the only interpretation. Thus, they are better able to understand the idea that rules are based on principles. Take this time to help your child understand that rules are a reflection of values. Rather than argue about unfairness, ask your child to explain her point of view, and then to listen to yours. Allow your child a voice in decisions when you can, and empathize with his disappointment at not having the final say.

Rethink Your Own Rules

Try to limit the number of nonnegotiables you have, and state rules in the positive when possible. For example, your rule might be, “Fruit for dessert” instead of, “No candy!” Forbidding something often increases not only cravings, but also the deceptive measures children will take to get it. More and more your child will be out of your sight, needing to make his own decisions based on the values he carries. Remember the larger purpose: Rather than creating perfect copies who follow our every expectation, our goal is to help our children become discerning, caring, empathic members of their families and communities.


Problem Solving
Social & Emotional Skills
Independent Thinking
Decision Making
Age 8
Age 7
Character and Values
Social and Emotional Development
First Jobs and Chores