At the beginning of each school year, we teachers always like to formulate classroom “rules” because they seem to help establish classroom boundaries. Parents usually like rules, too, for the same reasons. Children, however, are usually averse to rules because they don’t like grown ups bossing them around, and rules seem to give adults the authority to call the shots. While children may listen to the rules and nod their heads, that behavior does not indicate a willingness to cooperate with the adults and live by the rules.
So how can we adults set boundaries, establish limits so that our children learn to control their behaviors and act appropriately without our having to yell at them or punish them? Is this possible?
The good news is yes, we can create situations in which our children willingly cooperate with us because they want to be a significant part of our family. As family members who count, children feel loved, feel respected, feel valued, feel powerful, and feel like they belong. In other words their needs are met, and when their needs are met they behave. So now let’s create that loving family atmosphere that will bring out the best in our children and in ourselves!
First of all, we have to get some ideas into our heads that will help us. We must remember that children don’t want to be bossed around even if they are rewarded for their good behavior. Rewards only work when children want them to work and threats are the same. Next, we must remember that children follow rules they help create. So we’ve got to figure out a way for our children to help make the rules and yet still have rules created that do what we need them to do, set the boundaries. Here’s how you do this.
Plan a family meeting, a time when everyone in the family sits in the living room and talks to each other. You begin by saying something like this: “Thank you so much for coming to our family meeting. I love it when we’re all together like this! Now, I have some problems and I really need your help. Let me tell you what’s bothering me and you see if you are willing to help me solve these problems. I’m having a terrible time functioning without any rules in this house. I was thinking that if there were some rules that we all agreed to live by, our lives together would be much better. How do you feel about this? Do you think some rules would help us, and are you willing to help think of some we might need?”
– – to be continued
House Rules – part 2
Here you wait to see if your children are willing to do this and you listen to their response. Probably they will say, “Sure, Mom, we think we need some rules and we’re willing to help make some. How many rules do you want?”
“Oh, not more than five. I can’t remember too many!” you respond. “The thing I’m having the most trouble with is the noise inside the house. Our voices are sometimes so loud that I can’t really think clearly. I was wondering what we could do about that. Does this bother anyone else?”
Again, listen to your child and respond from there. So one child says, “Right, I hate it when anyone yells at me. I think it would be good to have a rule that says ‘no yelling in the house’”, to which you say, “Great idea! I feel better already.” But at that moment you remind yourself that your goal is to establish simple rules that are stated in a positive way. An example of this would be “Speak to each other with inside voices.” Then you say out loud, “I don’t want to feel like the rule is bossing me around; how about if we say the rule in a way that sounds like we’re being asked rather than bossed? How about “Speak to each other with a normal voice inside the house.” Then most likely the children will agree with this wording. In fact, they will probably like the way this meeting is going. It will feel to them like their feelings are being considered. But we haven’t gained consensus yet, so we ask everyone there, “So, do you like this rule? Do you agree with it for our family?” If there is consensus, you don’t need to vote on these rules. Consensus can be given in your meeting just by nodding a head or saying, “yeah.”
Depending on how the meeting is going, you can stop after one rule and do more later. You don’t want to wear your children out so that they won’t want to meet with you again! But before you stop you say, “Thanks for helping me. You have such great ideas and I really like hearing them. I feel so much better now. But I’m just wondering what we’re going to do if someone breaks this rule, if someone in our family screams at another family member. What do you think we should do then? I know it probably won’t happen since we’ve done such a great job of making a rule, but I just need to know that part, too.”
Listen again to your children and what they suggest. If they offer a punishment for not following the family rules you say, “Oh, I don’t want anyone punished because they don’t follow our family rules. I’d rather everyone learn to help each other. That’s what our rules are for. So if one of us forgets a rule, how could we help them out? Could we remind them if they forget? Could we give a hand signal to let them know they forgot the rule? What ideas do you have?”
Again, listen and respond thoughtfully. So let’s imagine that someone said if a family member forgets and yells at one of us inside the house, the person who got yelled at goes to the person who yelled and simply says one word as a reminder, and that word is “snitzle.” Oh, it could be any word, even a silly word like snitzle! Why? Well, so no one feels blamed or wronged. Give a little laughter into the mix!
Now the meeting is almost over and you say, “Well, we certainly accomplished a lot today. I for one am feeling wonderful. I love our family! I have a special treat to end our meeting. I baked chocolate chip cookies (or have popcorn or whatever sounds like something special to you), let’s go into the kitchen and have some milk and cookies!”
Remember, children don’t have to feel bad to behave better! Kids do better when they feel better and so do you!
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher