23 Old-Fashioned Parental "House Rules" That Deserve a Comeback
A little old-school structure could be just what your household needs to thrive.
Ask a typical kid today about the rules in their home and you're likely to get nothing more than a look of confusion. House rules, it seems, are a thing of the past. After all, it's hard to draw lines and create boundaries when children of the 21st century have the world at their fingertips. But all this freedom we're giving kids may not actually be doing them any favors. According to Gwen Dewar, PhD, of the website Parenting Science, kids who rule the roost without parental interference are more likely to develop aggressive behaviors, be less active, have higher BMIs, and be more susceptible to addiction. So those "old-fashioned" house rules that made us roll our eyes back in the day may not be so bad after all. Here are 23 examples of old-school guidelines that used to be common in households across the U.S. Parents today, take note!
"No chores, no allowance."
When did a weekly allowance become something that kids just got despite not doing any hard work to earn it? Expecting an allowance without chores is like expecting every weekend to be Christmas just because you want more presents! Life doesn't work that way, and neither should your relationship with your kids. Besides, the rewards for chores go beyond a little extra cash. A 2014 study out of the University of Minnesota found that doing household chores at a young age is one of the best predictors of success later in life.
"Dinnertime is family time."
Phones at the table? Absolutely not! And don't even think of eating in front of the TV. Dinner used to be an opportunity for the entire family to gather together, make eye contact, and talk about their day. And there's good reason to bring back this old-fashion house rule: Children who have dinnertime conversations with their families develop a more advanced vocabulary, according to a 2006 study published in the journal New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development. Not only that, but in 2018, University of Montreal researchers also discovered that family meals make kids healthier, both physically and emotionally.
"You get what you get and you don't get upset."
There's no bigger red flag that you're dealing with a spoiled child than their constant disappointment that the things provided by their parents just aren't good enough. They don't have the perfect toys, there isn't enough candy for their liking, or it's just unfair that they're the only ones in their class who don't have a video game console yet. The truth is life isn't always fair—and that's a great lesson for kids to grasp early on. The sooner your kids learn to be grateful for what they have and not just what they want, the better.
"Tantrums are never rewarded."
Listen, as parents, we get it. Sometimes all you want is for your child to stop whining or stomping around the house like a tornado. But rewarding a tantrum just signals to children that they found a winning strategy. If you don't want constant emotional meltdowns, then the best thing you can do is not make it seem like such an easy path to getting exactly what they want.
"Don't interrupt when an adult is talking."
Learning to actually listen rather than pushing for your chance to talk is a skill that will serve your children in the long run. Interrupting somebody, especially an adult, is more than just disrespectful. It demonstrates that you weren't truly paying attention in the first place.
"And stand up when an adult enters the room."
Your kids don't have to snap to attention like they're in the military and the general just entered the room. But when a child gets out of their seat when a grown-up walks in, it's a sign of respect. Sometimes it's the small gestures that make all the difference.
"Bedtime isn't negotiable."
When it's time to shut off the lights and go to bed, kids can become like tiny lawyers, arguing why they're being unfairly penalized and making a case for a later bedtime. Too often parents cave and let their kids stay up later just to avoid an argument. But don't let them win that easily—it's for their own good!
A 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that an alarming 73 percent of high school students across 30 U.S. states weren't getting enough sleep, which can seriously affect their mental and physical health and performance at school. "Children and adolescents who do not get the recommended amount of sleep for their age are at increased risk for chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and poor mental health, as well as injuries, attention and behavioral problems, and poor academic performance," according to the report.
"No deals, bargains, or bribes."
Parents should not have to negotiate with their children. Making a deal with your kids to finish their vegetables, or promising them candy or toys in exchange for good behavior, puts them in the power position. You're the boss, you make the rules, and they have to follow them, whether they like it or not.
"Always say 'please' and 'thank you.'"
According to Culture and Youth Studies, 97 percent of young people learn their manners from home. So if "please" and "thank you" aren't regular words in your child's vocabulary at home, they won't be at school or elsewhere.
"Make your bed before you come down for breakfast."
With so much to do to get ready in the morning, making the bed is one step that most kids today skip. But they really shouldn't be. As author Charles Duhigg explained in his bestselling book The Power of Habit, the ritual of making your bed every morning "is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget." As Duhigg points out, "somehow those initial shifts start chain reactions that help other good habits take hold."
"Never wear a hat indoors."
Yes, that includes your favorite baseball hat. As the etiquette experts at the Emily Post Institute note, "even in today's casual culture, men and women still remove their hats as a sign of respect." So if your kids keep up that tradition, even in your own house, they're sure to remember to follow it elsewhere.
"Change out of school clothes and into your play clothes."
As parents, we work hard to buy our kids nice clothes for school, and we don't want to see them destroyed after a muddy game of touch football in the park or rough-housing with friends in the backyard. If you make sure your kids take a few extra moments and change into some play clothes when they get home—preferably something that already has grass stains and rips in the knees—that'll teach them to value the special clothing items they own and to handle them with care.
"Wash up before coming to the table."
And we don't mean "run your hands under warm water for two seconds." The U.S. Department of Agriculture found in a 2018 study that 97 percent of the time, people don't adequately wash their hands (meaning scrubbing with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds). So if your kids think they've washed their hands thoroughly enough, there's only a three percent chance they actually did. Encouraging your kids to take the time to properly clean up before dinner instills good hygiene and good habits. After all, there's no better way to make sure germs don't spread around the dinner table!
"No dessert if you don't eat dinner."
If your child is "too full" to touch the vegetables still on their plate, there's no way they have room in their stomach for ice cream or cake. Letting kids indulge when they've declined to eat food with actual nutritional value sets a bad precedent that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. No one should get a reward just for showing up.
"No elbows on the table."
It may seem like the least consequential rule on this list, but in reality, there's a very good reason for it. When your elbows are off the table, you naturally sit up straighter. And when your posture is better, you present yourself as someone with more authority and people are more likely to listen to what you have to say. As parents, prohibiting elbows on the table is actually a way of preparing your kids to be people who should be taken seriously. And who could argue with that?
"Get dressed up for special meals."
Nobody's asking them to wear a tie to breakfast. But every once in a while, for a holiday or a special family gathering, it's nice to see everyone gathered around the table wearing something fancier than the wrinkled clothes they've been in all day
"Parents aren't short-order cooks."
There isn't a menu posted in your family kitchen because parents aren't restaurant chefs and they aren't making meals based on anyone's specific requests. If mom or dad decides that spaghetti is for dinner, then spaghetti is for dinner. Instilling this rule is another way to make sure your kids are thankful for what they're given.
"Ask for permission before leaving the table."
Kids who suddenly decide that they're finished with dinner and jump out of their seats like they've got better things to do leave parents feeling like they're running a restaurant rather than enjoying a family meal. Asking to be excused is a show of respect, sure, but it also sets kids up for good manners down the line. They shouldn't leave a date or social gathering without acknowledging the host either, right?
"No food in bed."
Any parent has heard the classic, "I promise to be careful this time." But we all know how it's going to end: Bed sheets covered in crumbs, and mom or dad is going to be the one dealing with the collateral damage. No thanks!
"Be home when the street lights come on."
This old-fashioned house rule gave kids some freedom, but within certain boundaries. And that kind of structured independence might be just what the doctor ordered these days. A 2018 report from the American Psychological Association found that when kids are too closely monitored, it can have negative consequences on their emotional and behavioral development. Trusting kids to take care of themselves as long as the sun is out is far better for them than watching their every move.
"Don't call unless it's an emergency."
Kids should know that it's perfectly fine to call mom or dad and interrupt date night, but only if it's an actual emergency. If you take those calls about where the TV remote is or to listen to complaints that their little brother won't stop bugging them, you're not helping them learn how to solve problems on their own.
"Knock before you enter."
And we're not just talking about the bathroom, either. Whether entering a bedroom, a home office, or any other room in the house with a door, it's just common courtesy to announce one's arrival before bursting in. Again, it's all about boundaries between you and your kids.
"Go to time-out if you're being bad."
The "time-out" punishment gets a bad rap these days, but according to some research, like this extensive 30-year study published in 2010 in Education and Treatment of Children, time-outs are actually effective in modifying behavior, even for children with special needs. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes in their guide to effective discipline that "ignoring, removing, or withholding parent attention to decrease the frequency or intensity of undesirable behaviors" is "especially important in promoting positive child behavior." So sending your kids to time-out when they've been bad isn't inhumane—it's how you get results.