The Importance of Rules

A child who grows up in an extremely chaotic, permissive, or neglectful family setting may not learn rule-following skills at home and, consequently, may be ill-prepared to fit into school. Continually reprimanded for not conforming to classroom procedures and following classroom rules, the child feels treated as “bad” when he or she is not — the child just wasn't prepared to get along in school.

A child who is highly indulged at home may also have a hard time adjusting to school because he is not used to being made to do what he doesn't like to do. “Why should I have to stop working on a project and go on to something else when I'm not finished?” An only child who may be used to receiving total attention from, and being given equal standing with, adults at home may have a hard time bending to adult authority at school. “The teacher just tells me to do what I'm told and won't always call on me when I know the answer!”

ESSENTIAL

If you have reason to believe rules at school may be very different from rules at home, then predict for your child what some of these differences are going to be. “At school you will be treated as one of many children, not like at home where you're the only one.”

Children are typically ambivalent about family rules. On the one hand, rules prescribe certain behaviors and prohibit others, so rules limit personal freedom. On the other hand, rules decide how conduct will be regulated and how relationships will work, so rules provide family structure.

You should explain the necessity of having rules. “We create a family by making rules for all of us to safely and happily live by. So long as you depend on us to take care of you, you have to live on some of our terms. These terms often include following rules that we believe are part of learning to live responsibly. Some of these rules have reasons — like hygiene for health, like precautions for safety, like communication for keeping us adequately informed. Other rules are based on values — like how we believe you should treat other people, what kind of treatment you owe yourself, and how you should behave in public.”

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