After Separation


Household Rules

So far in this course we have covered the relationship-building skills in

  • Special Time
  • Child-led Play
  • Specific Praise
  • Clear Instructions
  • Rewards & Incentives
  • Boundaries and Consequences


In this module we’ll be looking at setting household rules for your household.

The Family Get-together

A good place to start is for you and your children to get together and actually talk about how you want everyone to be happy in the home and get along together.

You can maybe do this over a meal, pick a time when everyone is in a good mood and able to listen. Explain that all families have unwritten rules that they live by, but sometimes it is important to decide these together and make them more official. Rules are about making us feel safe and supported.

Things that are important to your own family will be different to other families, and may well vary from household rules in the home of your ex-partner.

Name the Rule

It is important to have just a few really important house rules, rather than a long list. You may have an idea of what you want to achieve – for example, no phones at the table, no swearing – but ask every member of the family to think and come up with some.


Often the children will have great ideas too, and they are more likely to stick to it if they understand why it is needed, and in fact came from them in the first place.

Write down what your rule is and then work out the consequence for breaking the rule.

For instance you might have “The bedtime rule”. That would mean they know that they go to bed at 8 o clock, without getting up lots of times and the consequence might be that they have to go to bed earlier the next night if they keep coming back downstairs.

Example 1: Bedtime Rule

The idea is that we shouldn’t have to nag, and go on and on. All we say is “Bedtime Rule” and so long as you stick to the rule, and the consequence, the child will learn to do as you ask without having to be asked lots of times.

The secret here is consistency, being persistent, and patience.

You may want to have rules about behaviour at meal times, or tidying up, or screen time or how you speak to each other.

Example 2: The Mealtime Rule

A lot of families use “The Mealtime Rule”.

Often children know that you’re worried about them not eating properly and this can easily become a battle between you. However if you have a Mealtime Rule such as “if you don’t finish your meal, there will not be snacks later’ – this clearly sets out your expectation of them, and allows you to stick to that rule (even under pressure!).

But this also allows them some empowerment about what they get out of that rule in the first place: a snack!

Example 3: No Phones at mealtimes

If you add a “No Phones at mealtimes Rule”; that phones must be switched off and not on the table during meals, explain that the reason you would like phones to be switched off is because you would like that time together, as a family. That they are your priority. That actually this is a precious time together.

Make sure that you and any other adults in the household stick to this rule too, it can be very tempting to check your phone when it is in your pocket! Children are also very good at pointing out when we are not sticking to the rules, which instantly gives them grounds to break the rules themselves. So,try and model what you want them to do.

Have the consequence relate to the rules
It’s really important to have consequences that relate to the rules. For instance if there was a rule that smartphones should be on charge downstairs at night; if that rule was broken the consequence might be that they don’t have their phone the next day.

So again it would be really clear what the rule is, what the consequences are and what everybody’s expected to do.

And of course, your phone also has to be charged overnight downstairs.

So, write the rules down – not more than four – and put them up where everybody can see them so everyone is really clear. Get the children to write or draw the rules and display them with pride, and then you can refer back to them whenever you need to.

They will change over time, and new things happen or become irrelevant, so be prepared to review and update them. Give everyone really positive feedback when a rule is no longer needed, for example because everyone is in the habit of not having phones at the table.

Acknowledge it when rules are kept. For example when you look around and there are no phones at the table and say “Wow, this is great!!”

The “In This House” Strategy
If families are separated and you’ve got mum in one house and dad in another house and the children going between, use the “In This House” strategy, which we covered in the co-parenting module.

Create the rules for your household with the children. Even if the rules are different or not as strict in the other household you can still have rules for your household. Children will adapt to that.

The “In this house” strategy even works where parents are not living separately because the children might go to their friends houses or grannies house where they don’t have household rules.

Children are very quick to pick up on what they can get away with at Granny’s house!

Now that we’ve spent some time looking at setting boundaries and household rules, next week we’ll be looking at ignoring and staying calm: how to stay calm when children push the boundaries and what behaviours we can safely ignore.