Rules serve as a ‘safety net’


Routine, predictability and stability are some of the things which contribute to a child feeling safe and secure and being able to function optimally.

I like to think of rules that are set in the family as a kind of safety net – items put in place for everyone’s benefit.

They serve as guidelines for children and adults alike as to what is acceptable and allow children to make decisions about their actions based on reliable boundaries and consequences.

They can also serve to help lower the anxiety which can accompany unpredictability in the family system.

It is not a good thing for something to be OK today and not tomorrow, with children never knowing what is acceptable or not from day to day.

Respectful, fair and consistent rule and consequence setting and implementation has many benefits.

It is part of our job as parents to model appropriate social behaviour to our children and the family is a wonderful place for this to be done.

A nice way to start setting some rules (along with appropriate consequences) is to sit down as a family and put together a list of rules and consequences.

This can promote bonding in the family and a feeling of being more of a unit. It also helps in teaching some useful social skills like conversation and negotiation skills and teamwork and co-operation.

How this can look in practice is parents having a private discussion beforehand, so they are on the same page before sitting down with the children.

Then, you can sit down as a family and discuss what is acceptable behaviour in your family unit and what consequences should be put in place.

For example, you could say, “In our family, we talk to each other with respect”, “In our family, we don’t hurt each other”.

This could be put together on a poster to be displayed somewhere in the house where everyone can see it (it applies to the whole family unit) – like on the fridge.

There should also be appropriate consequences in place for when this agreement is not followed.

For example, swearing at someone might mean you lose cellphone privileges for two days.

Consequences should not be unpredictable and should carry set time limits, and a way to earn back privileges if these were removed.

Children do make mistakes, as we all do, and it can be a great learning opportunity for them to be allowed to “make it right”.

This can also apply to things like if they have spilt their juice, acknowledging what happened calmly and allowing them to get a dishcloth or towel to mop it up themselves.

This fosters a sense of responsibility and accountability for their actions.

Even though a mistake was made, they were empowered to fix it for themselves.

This is good for their self-esteem and feeling of capability to handle issues in life as well. Another way we can help them grow their problem-solving capabilities is to ask them to help come up with possible solutions or ways that things could be done next time.

For example, if your child has chosen to swear at you, the appropriate consequences (agreed upon and understood in the family meeting) would be assigned but you can also talk to them and ask what they think they could do to handle the situation differently next time.

When having these conversations, it is very important to listen actively and give respectful feedback to model how things should be done.

Kate Currin is a counsellor at Masithethe Counselling Services, as well as a counsellor in private practice (Facebook: @KateCurrinCounsellor, Contact: 061-543-3082).

Masithethe Counselling Services (formerly LifeLine East London) has been offering confidential and free counselling to residents of the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality since 1985 (36 years).

Contact: 043-722-2000 or WhatsApp 084-091-5410, or email:


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