Have Rules and Communicate Them

“If a thing is right, it can be done, and if it is wrong, it can be done without; and a good man will find a way.”
– Anna Sewell, Black Beauty –

Most new parents have never taken child development courses, and many have never spent much time with children. Sunday school teachers are often volunteers who get little training if any. They go into the classroom focused on the material and start teaching, only to get frustrated when some of the children behave as if they don’t have a clue as to how to act in a classroom. They assume that children should automatically know how to behave. But they don’t. Not unless the teacher has set some ground rules.

A few years ago, I was talking with another teacher about how I let kids choose the way they want to sit when they gather as a large group. Because I’ve studied learning styles, I know that different people learn best in different physical positions. So I let my kids sit in a chair, or on the floor cross- legged, or sprawled on their stomachs. It doesn’t matter to me as long as they are paying attention and not bothering other kids. But the teacher I was speaking with was appalled. To maintain discipline in her classroom, she insists that all children sit straight in their chairs, feet on the floor. Who is right?

There’s actually no right or wrong when it comes to the way to sit. My friend was stricter, I was more lenient. The key to running a class smoothly is to clearly communicate the rules and be consistent. Thinking our way is the only way – or the only right way – is simply not true, and comparing ourselves to other teachers is a distraction.

The same holds true at home. Comparing ourselves to other parents is unproductive. Thinking that our method of childrearing is the only way – or the only right way – is simply not true. Again, the key is being as clear and consistent as possible. And if you see that the rules you’ve set don’t fit your children’s needs, be willing to flex and change the rules.

At home or in the classroom, let children know what you expect of them in different situations. If your rules are general enough at the outset – for example, speak kindly, keep our house/classroom neat – then the details of each can be worked out as needed.

Here are some specifics to consider as you set and communicate rules:

• State rules in the positive if possible. Tell children what you want instead of what you don’t want. That helps them understand exactly what you expect. For example, say, “Walk quietly” instead of, “Don’t run,” because “don’t run” leaves other options open. Children can skip, twirl, or tumble, and they’re still following the rule.

• Let children help make the rules. Tell them the issue that needs to be addressed, like rude talk or hoarding the crayons, and ask them what rules they would suggest.

• Post the rules on the wall as a reminder if you need to, especially for younger children. For those who can’t read, draw a picture symbolizing the rule. Stick with just the few most important rules.

• Know that you’ll have to remind kids about what the rule is. It can be exasperating to have to repeat rules for the umpteenth time, but a calm, firm reminder is more effective than losing your temper. (And it models self- control.)

• Consistently enforce the rules with a good dose of grace and mercy. How? We’ll look more closely at behavior management in a later post.

Adapted from The Gift of an Inner Moral Compass © Karyn Henley.
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