Setting rules for your family

To help make healthy habits stick

All families have rules about behaviours that are and aren’t okay. You probably already have family rules established for a range of different behaviours. For example, a rule for acceptable manners may be “wait until others have finished talking before you talk”. Or a common rule for adding chores into daily routines may be “taking it in turns to unpack the dishwasher each day” 

When you’re trying to develop new healthy routines, rules are important to help keep everyone on the right track. Family rules can be created for all sorts of different health behaviours including healthy eating, keeping physically active, sleep routines and limiting screen time.  

Rules often reflect parent’s priorities for what they want for their family. Before introducing a new family rule it’s important to clarify what is the priority or reason for introducing it in the first place.  

Good family rules should guide behaviour in a positive way. They should also: 

  • Say exactly what the behaviour is you expect. 
  • Be clear and easy enough for children to understand. 
  • Focus on what to do, rather than not what to do. 
  • Involve the whole family, rather than singling one person out. 

When creating new family rules, get the kids involved as much as possible. When they’re involved, they’ll be more likely to follow the rules. They’re also less likely to see the rules as ‘unfair’ or ‘mean’ because getting them involved gives them the opportunity to negotiate, understand and accept the rules and why your family needs them. Involving older children in rule making can also give them the opportunity to take responsibility for their own behaviour. 

Here are some examples of rules you may like to start with.  

If your priority is to eat more family meals together, some rules you may like to try to introduce to your family could be: 

  • Everyone who is home will sit down and eat dinner together at the table. 
  • We will turn off screens and put away other distractions during meal times. 

If your priority is help your family drink more water, some rules you may like to try to introduce to your family could be:  

  • We only drink water between meals and snacks. 
  • We serve water with our meals. 

If your priority is to help your family to spend less time on screens, some rules you may like to try to introduce to your family could be: 

  • We turn off our screens during meal times. 
  • Screen time is only allowed during set times, e.g. before dinner.      
  • We play a game after dinner each night. 

Remember, once you set and implement a family rule, it’s good practice to check to see how they are working. You may need to adjust the rule to make it easier or harder. Just like when you make new rules, it’s good to involve the whole family when making changes to family rules too!