A few years ago, my daughter was nearly killed in an accident by a young man who decided texting was more important than stopping at a traffic light.  My daughter suffered traumatic brain injury and was in a coma and then rehab for months afterwards.  She had to learn ALL her motor skills all over again—swallowing to walking!   At that time, there was not a “law” that specifically prohibited texting while driving and while he was responsible for the accident, the cost to my daughter and her family could never be compensated.  Today, there is a law that prohibits texting while driving.  How her life could have been different if he had had enough self-regulation to wait… Becoming a good citizen is really just about developing self-regulation skills.  I’ve previously discussed how children can be part of the rule-making process as well as how empathy is the foundation to self-regulation.  Self-regulation (and specifically the ability to following rules) is identified as a school readiness skill: children are more likely to be successful in school when they can follow rules.  And it makes sense, of course.  When children can follow basic rules and routines necessary to progress through the school day,  both teachers and children benefit.  No one gets hurt. When children are disruptive or do not possess the skills needed to follow rules, then both teachers and children suffer. We can say the same thing about adult citizens who follow rules…or who choose not to follow laws.  Rules need to be positively stated….in other words, they need to tell children what they can do.   “Don’t text and drive” is a popular slogan nowadays.  Our recent vacation took us through the state of Tennessee and flashing signs over the highway said: Stay alert—Keep your eyes on the road.   What a great way to tell drivers what they expect out of them.  Keeping our eyes on the road would also preclude reading e-mail, getting driving directions, or smearing ketchup on your burger.  One statement–covering a multitude of “sins”.

Rules should also be relevant and reasonable. Frequently, I see the rule “Keep your hands and feet to yourself”.  Don’t like that one much.  That “rule” would mean I could never touch another person…which isn’t very reasonable.  So, how do you expect children to use hands and feet?  We use helping hands and feet” or “we use kind hands and feet” might be better options.  Another question I might ask you would be, how do you expect children to solve problems?  What would be your expectation?  Use your words?  What kind of words?  Get my point?

So, now that you have “good rules”, it just depends on us to be consistent in using them.  Reminding children what the applicable rule is for a situation is easy now.  That “other” perspective that I discussed in the last post provides a “cushion” for the rule.  “Your words really hurt Sarah. Remember our rule is: Use kind words.”  The only thing left to do now is give a choice—yep, this goes back to a recent post too.  So, now, I’d offer this child two acceptable choices or ask her (if she has the skills) to solve the problem:  “Use kind words or find another place to play”  OR “How can you use kind words to solve your problem?”

And don’t forget to provide lots of SPECIFIC positive reinforcement for rules that are followed: “thanks for picking up your toys”, “You are using your words to solve your problems”, or “thanks for walking inside”.

Learning to follow rules takes time…and for some children, even more time.  Patience…a calm spirit, a peaceful presence, AND a belief that all children can learn are essential attitudes in teaching self-regulation to little ones!   So, Stay Calm and Trust (in yourself and your little ones)!