During my first year of teaching Pre-K, I joined the class mid-year. I inherited three classroom rules, “Use walking feet inside; use gentle hands; and use kind words.” On my second week in the classroom, a child at the art easel started to paint the wall. She wasn’t running, she wasn’t saying unkind things, and she was using gentle paint brush strokes. It was then that I realized that the classroom rules didn’t work.
A community—whether at school or at home—is a safe place where children should be protected from physical and emotional harm and where people live, work and play in harmony with each other. Therefore, every group needs a few basic rules that will create a safe and productive community. Involving children in deciding on the rules is a powerful way to convey a shared responsibility for life in the community. Children are more likely to understand and follow rules that they help establish. And during all this together time, rules become more important than ever! Here are some steps you can follow to establish and enforce rules in your home:
- Before you discuss rules with children, think about what rules are absolutely essential to you. These rules may include maintaining physical safety; respecting the rights and feelings of others; and caring for the environment and the objects and materials within it.
- Talk with children and guide them to think about possible problems and identify some key rules as solutions.
- Restate children’s ideas in positive terms so children know what to do rather than focus on what not to do. For example, your child says, “No hitting or pushing.” You restate, “So we should make sure we touch people gently.”
- Limit the number of rules to three or four, and keep them simple, e.g., be safe; be kind to others; take care of our things.
- Post the rules in a place where you can review them easily with your children--ours have always lived on our refrigerator.
- When enforcing the rules, use the “big rule, little rule” strategy. This strategy pairs one of your three or four main rules (the big rule) with a specific behavior (the little rule) you want to encourage. Over time, this helps children really understand the big concepts of safety, kindness, and taking care of property, rather than having to rely on memorizing a bunch of little rules.
“Be kind to others. Use a quiet voice while momma is working.”
“Be safe. Keep your bottom in the chair when you’re sitting.”
“Take care of our things. Put the puzzle back in the box when you’ve finished it.”
As needed, you can revisit rules with children in specific situations or for specific rooms in your house. Take the big rules and invite children to think of associated little rules that apply to that situation or that area. For example, if your children are getting ready to play with blocks you might brainstorm rules like, “Be safe. Use blocks for building. Be kind. Ask before you touch your brother’s block structure.”
I’ve always used this strategy at home with my kids, too, even as they’ve gotten older it is still super effective. The picture above is of one of our family rules that we revisited this week. Living, working, learning, caring, and playing under the same roof for 24/7... we needed a refresher on what it means to be kind and respectful.
After active listening, “big rule, little rule” is my favorite child guidance strategy…because it works!