General Guidelines – Making Rules Children Will Follow

The secret of education is respecting the pupil. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

There are rules and then there are rules. Children are more inclined to follow certain rules than others. What makes a good rule, one that children will follow?

  1. The rule and its consequences make sense to children. A good way of making sure children understand the need for a rule is to let them have a say in setting it.
  2. The rule has mutual benefit to you and them–for instance, having a rule that “Children should be quiet while doing their schoolwork, because noise disrupts the teacher’s concentration,” will probably not be as compelling as, “because it is harder for children to learn in a noisy room.”
  3. The rule is not too hard for children to follow–some rules expect too much from children; ultimately they are broken. Setting a rule like, “Children cannot use the washroom during class time,” is unrealistic because sooner or later an emergency “I-gotta-go” case will come up, forcing you to make an exception. It is better to set a rule you know children can abide by like, “Children can only use the washroom during class time if it’s an emergency.”

Distinguish between children who can’t help themselves from behaving a certain way, for instance, a hyperactive child fidgeting in his desk, and those who can, but don’t want to. I find these two questions helpful: Can he or can’t he? If he can, will he or won’t he?

  1. Only set important rules–too many rules stifle children’s behavior and may result in retaliatory responses. Ask yourself, “Is this rule relevant, or do I just keep it because it has become a habit?”
  2. Spell out rules in direct, specific terms–tell children what they must do, when they must do it, and what will happen if they don’t do it. For example, “Children must take off their boots as soon as they enter the classroom; if not, they will mop up the water they leave on the floor.”
  3. Say the rule in positive terms–tell children how they should behave, rather than how they should not behave. For instance, children are more likely to follow, “Keep your hands to yourself,” than “Do not slap.”
  4. State the rule in an impersonal way–for example, “The rule is no sleeping in class,” rather than, “I do not want you sleeping in my class.” This avoids children firing their emotional outbursts at you when you confront them for breaking a rule. They may get mad at you for “making up the dumb rule in the first place.” However, if the rule has no specific owner, they have no one to get mad at.