Putting Rules into Action

To bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself once in a while. Josh Billings.

Children may agree with a rule, perhaps even play a part in making it, but still not follow through on it, because of the way you enforce it. Your style of putting rules into action conveys to children whether they should take you and the rule seriously. Children are more likely to listen to you if you follow these five steps:

  1. They know you mean business–your voice sounds like you mean it, you follow up on what they’re supposed to be doing, you don’t give second chances, and you make sure they face their consequences. Inconsistency is one of the prime reasons children neglect rules. They learn how many times you let things slide by before putting down your foot, what you make a point of checking and what you leave out if you don’t have the time, what gets on your nerves the most, and what they can get away with when you’re in a good mood as opposed to a bad one.

Hyperactive children do not operate well in this type of unstable environment. They need the predictability of knowing that every time someone hits or kicks another child he gets sent to the office. As well, they need the security of knowing you are the bottom line in controlling the classroom. You set the limits of what children can do, and you make sure they stay within those limits.

  1. Operate in a neutral, matter-of-fact, assertive, and determined manner–this raises less opposition from children, and lets them know you don’t expect them to do anything else but comply. Believe in yourself and don’t let children intimidate you. You are the one calling the shots, not them. Do not nag, coax, criticize, make up excuses, argue, get mad, prove you are right, or try to make children feel bad. Talking and reasoning are weak disciplinary tactics. You can give one reminder, but that’s it. When it’s time to take action, take action.

In addition, do not say things you do not mean like, “You’ll never set foot in my classroom again unless you stop swearing.” Put your emotions aside, otherwise you may find yourself saying and doing things you regret later on. Take a thinking, not a feeling course of action.

  1. In general, focus on children’s behavior, rather than their motives or mood. It is often difficult to get at the bottom of why a child behaves a certain way, and even if you do, it may compromise your consistency in consequencing him. Knowing why is valuable in designing treatment programs, but don’t let it interfere in how you consequence a child.
  2. Respect children and be considerate of their feelings–think of them as your own sons and daughters. You want them to feel accepted, wanted, and cared about.

Try not to adopt the dictator style of teaching. Make suggestions and give choices, rather than issue commands. This gives children some breathing room to make their own decisions. Also, allow children to express their feelings. It’s okay for a child to say, “I hate cleaning the blackboard”–so long as he does it.

  1. Treat all your students equally–try not to let the negative behaviors of problem children become the focus of your interactions with them. Your attitude towards a child sets the scene for how other children perceive him, as well as how he feels about himself.

One way of measuring how you interaction with a child is by filling out the Individual Praise and Individual Criticism checklists by J. Brophy and T. Good, 1984 (see Appendix G). These look at your acceptance of a child’s feelings, and whether you are more likely to praise or criticize him. As well, they can help you clarify what types of children you like and don’t like.