16 December 2013 07:14 AM

Pretty Good Rules for Kids

by rbavaria

It doesn’t matter what they say, kids really, really like rules.  Yes, they complain at times and even pitch the occasional fit, but rules provide structure and limits, which kids crave – even if they don’t realize it.  Rules develop eventual independence.  Rules help kids figure out their own boundaries.

Watch what happens when some child ignores a rule in class.  “Ms. Smith, Cherie’s butting in line!”  “Mr. Luden, Jarrett’s using the pencil sharpener without asking first!”  “Cafeteria Lady, Troy’s trying to get two cookies!”

Even older kids rely on rules.  Parents’ and teachers’ rules can help strengthen kids’ resolve without their losing face.  “I really want to go to that party at Jan’s house while her parents are away, but my folks won’t let me.  Darn!”

I have rules in my high school classroom – they usually revolve around respect, responsibility, keeping the peace, and learning.  I ask kids about the rules their parents have at home, and it’s no surprise that the clearer and more consistently applied their families’ rules, the better the kids tend to do in school.  

Rules rule.

When kids abide by rules, it’s easy for parents and teachers to loosen up a little.  When kids don’t abide by rules, the rules become tighter.  That’s fair.  Kids know fair when they see it.

Here are some pretty good rules that have worked for me and my kids over the years.  Feel free to adapt and use in your own families and classrooms.

  1. Help out around the house. A household is complicated, with lots of people’s needs and expectations to account for.  Help keep it smoothly running by being responsible for a few chores and obligations.
  2. Help your brother and sister.  Siblings learn from each other all the time.  We adults might as well channel that natural dynamic by insisting they’re helpful to each other in school, at home, and at play.
  3. Homework first, then TV.  This one’s a no-brainer.  Periodically, randomly (that’s the best), check up on their work.  To establish your parental bona fides, make some sort of helpful comment, even if it’s a stretch about making it neater.  Then TV.
  4. Keep your room and study area organized.  Organization is the key to successful studying.   It’s true in school.  It’s true in the workplace.  Save kids’ time and energy (“I can’t find my highlighters again!”) by expecting a reasonably neat room and desk.
  5. Choose your friends carefully.  This can be tough, especially as kids get older and seek more independence.  But one of adults’ most sacred duties is to keep kids as safe as possible.  If you suspect some friends are troublemakers, find the right time to have a chat, and either your kid will put your mind put at ease or you’ll set some limits.
  6. Family routines are important.  Dinnertime, bedtime, study time, play time, worship time, family time – these and other routines form the basis of kids’ lives and help establish lifelong values.  Expect kids to abide by your family’s routines.
  7. Be polite, courteous, and respectful.  My grandmother used to say, “No matter who you are or where you are, when you’re rude, you’re wrong.”  I tell my kids it doesn’t matter whether you like the person you’re dealing with, just be nice.  Life will be so much easier.
  8. Do your best.  At home, at school, at play, do your best.  I can usually disarm potential arguments at homework time by asking simply, “Is this your best?”  There’s some eye-rolling, but eventually it gets done better.
  9. Be fair.  Kids can spot unfairness a mile away.  They expect everyone to be fair to them.  We must insist they’re fair to everyone, too.
  10. Learn from your mistakes.  We all make mistakes.  It’s one of the things that make us human.  Heroes make mistakes.  So do parents, teachers, and coaches.  The mistakes, even if they’re painful or embarrassing, can be valuable, though, if we learn from them.  Help kids through the tears and sense of loss, and then show them how to make the best of a bad situation.  It’s a good life lesson.  

Rules don’t have to be authoritarian and smothering.  Don’t forget the earned praise that motivates kids, and remember consequences can be equally effective.  Like everything else with kids, a little flexibility, some common sense, and a whole lot of humor will go a long way.





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