This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How to discipline your difficult child -Family rules

By Marythemom,

Family rules. If you don't have any rules you get chaos. Too many rules and you might get an uprising -but how many is too many? How do you include everything you want to include so your child grows up to be a happy, healthy, law-abiding, good citizen? And most importantly - once you have rules how do you get them to obey?

Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Things You’ll Need:
Paper and a pencil
Patience and love
Guinea pigs - I mean children
Did I mention patience?


The general rule of thumb is that you should have no more than 5-6 family rules. This is easier for the children to remember and you to enforce. The problem is kids are so inventive. They do things it never even occurred to you to write a rule about!

For example, my mom never told me not to cover my feet with Crisco and go "ice" skating in the kitchen.

She never told me not to take all the labels off the packing boxes and use them to decorate my tricycle (that military move had to be delayed 24 hours while every single box was opened, unpacked, re-inventoried, and repacked).

You may have told your child to never (again) stick a bean up his nose, but did you tell him not to stick a pebble up his sister's nose?

I told my daughter not to write on the walls with crayon, but technically I did not tell her not to write her brother's name on the couch in permanent marker (as he was only 18 months at the time, we did not believe her story that he wrote it.)

My point is that you cannot write a rule for EVERYthing your child(ren) is going to come up with so try for some generic rules that you can enforce.


Clean and neat!


Personal hygiene shows your respect for your body and effects how others see you. You will have your body for your whole life – think about what you’re putting into it (healthy foods), how what you do or don’t do effects your body long term (wiping, brushing, and washing prevent infection). If a child is consistently brushing their teeth they are more likely to be taking care of their other personal hygiene.


Take care of personal property, yours and others.

Everyone can contribute!


This includes school work, chores, therapy. Learning how to do an A+ job, fast and snappy instead of slow and crappy will result in you living your life in an A+ manner. We do not expect perfection, but if you do a bad job, you get a chance to repeat the job until it's a good job.


Damaged relationships are going to be around until you fix them, and things that are fixed are usually never quite as strong as they were before. Watch how you use your words and attitude. We always try to be Christ-like. Would you say or do that if Christ were standing next to that person?

Fun to be around!


This is really the only rule! It includes all of the above.

R – Respectful – You are expected to be kind, courteous, and helpful in everything you say or do. Think before you act and remember words can leave irreparable scars on your relationships.

R – Responsible – You are expected, and fully capable of, meeting your rights and responsibilities. You are also responsible for taking care of yourself, and taking care of the people around you –especially the people that love you. Your family loves you and is there to help you.

H – Honest – Not only does this mean not lying, but includes being honest and true to yourself. It also means being open and honest about your feelings and needs to those who love you and are trying to help you (like family and therapists).

A - Attitude a positive one! Which ties into the next rule -

FTBA – Fun To Be Around – You are expected to generally be fun to be around all the time, or at the very least pleasant. This is not easy to do, but you are capable of it. If you are not feeling fun to be around, then you need to think about how to fix this (you can ask for help), and/or how to protect others from your bad mood or whatever is making you not fun to be around (this might mean staying away from others while you work this through). It definitely does not mean inflicting your bad mood on others, or trying to make them stop being in a good mood because it annoys you when you're in a bad mood.

These are OUR family rules. YOUR family rules would probably look a little different. Do some research into other families' rules. Mine came from a wide variety of sources and I adapted them to our needs. They change occasionally as our family grows and changes. We also have another document with much more detailed rules (and insight as to WHY these are rules), but the 5 listed here are really all we HAVE to have. Because some of our kids are special needs and new to our family these cover the basics in a way they can understand. We probably have some rules that aren't needed in other families.

When it comes to family rules there are 3 very important things to remember.

a. We expect all our family members to be RRHAFTBA, and in return we all enjoy the rights and responsibilities that go with being part of this loving family. We do NOT try to make everything equal for everyone. We respect that each of our children has a different personality, is a different age, and has different wants, needs and abilities. Unlike the FAIR Club, being part of our family means we sometimes cut a family member some slack and sometimes we’re here to help them live up to being More than average or equal.

b. When enforcing the rules stay calm and loving! (See my first post in this series). Try to step into your child's shoes on occasion and remember to be patient with them! Beyond Consequences Logic and Control by Heather Forbes is a great book for helping do this.

c. Make sure your rules are enforceable and stick to them! (See my post about the FAIR Club for what to do when your child breaks the rules.)

Tips & Warnings

This post is really for older children who have the ability to exercise some self-control as well as to understand abstract rules. Younger children can memorize the rules, but don't really have the impulse control needed to follow them. (Of course I also know adults who know better than to put their fists through walls, but don't have the impulse control needed to not do it!). Some of my children are still working on this concept, but it's good to have goals!

If you've ever trained a dog you learn that at first you reward all efforts with a treat (positive reinforcement), after awhile you reward only occasionally with a treat and occasionally with just praise and petting... eventually the dog will consistently do the trick in the hopes that he might get a treat or praise... this also works with negative behavior though! If you do not want your dog on the couch and USUALLY reprimand him and make him get down, but occasionally you let him stay (for whatever reason). Guess what?! You've trained him to get on the couch! He's always hoping this will be the time when you just don't have the energy to kick him off and he can dig under the cushions for lost popcorn.

Children often whine, beg, nag, sneak, argue, make you feel sorry for them - anything to get you to let them get away with breaking the rules... just this once! Remember they are learning that this means they do not have to do what you say anymore and you have not just lost control - you've given it away!

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