Let’s face it. Rules have a bad reputation.
In movies and television, rebellious heroes seem to live to break the rules so they can catch the villain, save the world, or even save a galaxy far, far away. Teenagers roll their eyes and grumble under their breath (and sometimes over their breath) when they feel weighted down by too many rules. A workplace with unfair and arbitrary rules can drag down morale and lower job satisfaction, equaling unhappy workers and shaky productivity.
Rules. Rules. Rules. Why do we have to have so many rules? Because they are important and valuable. Of course, when rules are used to control and coerce, we dig in and ready ourselves for a fight. But when rules are taught with intention and care, like they are at Educare of Seattle, young children develop self-regulation, independence, problem-solving skills, and self-confidence.
There are three simple school rules that all eleven classrooms live by at Educare of Seattle:
- We take care of ourselves.
- We take care of each other.
- We take care of our things.
In her book Beyond Behavior Management, Jenna Bilmes calls rules like these “guiding principles of behavior.” Guiding principles of behavior teach an important life skill, are stated in a positive way, and can be applied over a long period of time and cover a variety of experiences.
A classroom team can develop a shared language that teaches children what they can do. From the moment a child enters an Educare classroom, they begin to learn the three rules. The rules are posted in the classroom with a visual example of what each rule looks like in action. Teachers take time during large and small groups to review the rules and give children opportunities to talk about the rules together. Sometimes puppets are used to bring the rules alive for children. And most importantly, throughout the day teachers acknowledge children when they are following the rules, and remind them of the rule when they are breaking it.
When a child wants a bike during outside play and tries to pull another child off a bike because they are all being used, a teacher can say, “Remember, we take care of each other.” It is essential that the teacher then follows up with an idea for what the child can do, such as, “You can ask if you can have a turn when they are finished.”
It is even more important to find moments throughout the day to celebrate when children are following the rules: “Wow, look at all of you taking care of your things by hanging your coats up.” Or, “You are amazing! Every single one of you washed your hands and sat down at the lunch table. You are taking care of yourselves.”
Using rules-based language helps reduce power struggles with children. If a child is running inside the classroom, instead of saying “Don’t run,” a teacher can gently remind the child: “Remember to take care of yourself by walking inside.”
In this example, the teacher has told the child what they can do, reminded them of the rule, and resisted using negative language. When children are told what not to do, it can be confusing. “Don’t run” sounds an awful lot like “run” to young children. In fact, developmentally, many children don’t make a clear distinction between “run” and “don’t run” until first or second grade. When a teacher simply states a rule instead of giving a command, the child is a thousand times more likely to comply (okay, that might be a slight exaggeration).
Once the rules take hold in a classroom, it becomes less and less necessary to remind children of the rules because they are following them on their own—and amazingly, they remind each other of the rules!
Of course, using rules like this can be just as effective at home. You can create rules with your children, remind each other when they are being broken, and recognize all the times the rules are being followed. Families who use rules in a positive way might find that life at home can become happier and a little more harmonious.
See, rules in the right hands aren’t so bad.