Negotiating the space between a child’s wishes and our adult boundaries is an area of significant confusion for parents and educators. All of us have heard “Why do I have to” or “it’s not fair” questions over and over again. Apparently “because” is not enough of an answer. Underlying this dilemma between the child’s curiosity and our “authority “is the adult responsibility to establish limits and rules in a consistent fashion. Similar to parents and families, the school and its parent community have an obligation to provide our children with a secure and ordered experience. The child’s need to “follow the rules” becomes the foundation for establishing an effective, loving, and secure learning environment.

There is no doubt that the rules of school are very different from the rules of family and can, on occasion, confuse our children. Understanding and adapting to different rules in different places requires experience and maturity. Most child experts espouse “consistency” as a fundamental aspect of teaching a child “appropriate” behavior.   Our consistency as a community makes our children’s lives easier. Successful rules, and successful families and schools, share some common characteristics: rule givers support each other, and reinforce the child’s understanding of why rules are important and need to be followed. Families and schools may not agree, but they reinforce the idea that adherence to rules is part of living together, and actually opens the door to more, not less, freedom.

  • Rule givers should not disagree in front of the children. Adult disagreement regarding rules, rewards, or consequences is a private matter.
  • Rules should be clear, consistent, and understood by all.
  • Following rules is part of the privilege of membership.
  • Rules are designed for the good of the individual and the group.
  • Some rules are the same for everyone, and some rules can be different for different people. The answer to” it’s not fair” is more complex than we think.
  • Rules should be thoughtful, relevant, and purposeful. While children may view them as arbitrary, confusing, and limiting, adults should see them as necessary, important, and liberating.
  • Some rules are the same everywhere. Kindness, appropriateness, respectful behavior, compassion… should be the same no matter where you are.
  • In the mind of a child, ignoring one rule opens the door to ignoring all rules.
  • It’s not enough to say rules are important; adults have to believe that rules are important.
  • Adults, who break rules, have children who break rules.
  • Rules are part of all relationships.
  • Everyone makes mistakes, and even mistakes have rules.
  • Making a child part of developing rules, makes the rules part of the child.
  • Rules can be changed, as long as you follow the rules for changing them.
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