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Home » Child/Adolescent Mental Health » Promoting Mental Health » Behavioral Development » Clear and Simple Rules

Clear and Simple Rules

Setting clear and simple rules is an important early step in the promotion of positive behavioral development in children and youth.  Whether in a school, home, or community environment, you can use the guidelines below to help you set clear and simple rules.  

1.  Rules should be few in number.  Between three and five is a good range.

2.  Rules should be straightforward and stated simply.

  • Effective: “Be on time.”
  • Ineffective: “Leave one place as early as possible to arrive on time to where you are going.” (Too many words can confuse the essential message.)

3.  Rules should be positively stated. 

  • Effective: ”Be respectful to others.”
  • Ineffective: “No gossiping about other people.” (This says what NOT to do, but does specify what TO do.)

4.  Teach rules explicitly and provide behavioral examples of how each rule can be followed in each setting.  The chart below offers examples of how a home “Respect Property” rule can be applied to different settings.  

In the car In your bedroom At dinner In the yard
Take all trash out of the car every day Pick up toys when you are finished using them Keep the chairs on all four legs Throw all balls away from the house

5.  Only make rules you are prepared to consistently enforce.  Inconsistent enforcement of rules can be confusing to a young person and gives the message that the rule is not important.