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Teaching Elementary Age Kids About Rules and Laws

It’s important for parents to teach elementary-aged children about rules and laws, why they exist, and why they need to be followed.

It’s important for parents to teach elementary-aged children about rules and laws, why they exist, and why they need to be followed. By teaching basic concepts and ideas behind agreements and rules, your children will gain many life skills along the way: responsibility, consideration of others, fairness, doing their share, etc. In time, these skills will more than likely transfer from home to their friends’ houses, to the neighborhood and at school, in clubs and activities, and so on. In turn, your children will be better citizens and lead more productive lives.

Parents’ Role in Teaching Rules and Laws

Children need choices but they also need limits for these choices. If you raise your children with choices and without limits (“Do whatever you want”) or limits without choices (“You need to do what I say” or “Because I said so, you need to do it”), then you are not helping them learn how to act responsibly. So, a parenting style that blends both choices and limits is best.

What Makes a Good Rule

  • It is specific and stated clearly.
  • It can be enforced when broken.

You might consider working together with your child to develop certain rules that concern them. Research has shown that there is more buy-in and also a better understanding of the rules if children are involved in the formulation of them.

Appropriate Rules for Children

Together, you can brainstorm rules that are applicable to your child. These categories are merely guidelines to help you shape the rules.

  • Academic rules – For example, as to academic goals, children should do their homeroom every night. You might want to establish a specific place and time for them to complete their work so it becomes a habit. They should not cheat or copy other’s work, and vice versa. Rules associated with academic goals could be stated as 1) Hand in your work on time at school, and 2) Do your own school work.
  • Procedural rules – Procedural rules include being on time for meals, school, and bedtime. They also concern taking baths and showers, brushing teeth, wearing proper attire for school and other events, picking up clothes and toys, and following safety rules (what to do and where to go if there is a fire, intruder, some type of weather-related occurrence). Specific rules for this category are 1) Put your school supplies away when you are finished using them in your homework spot, 2) Pick up your dirty clothes and place them in the laundry basket, 3) Turn the bedroom lights off and be in bed at 8:00 p.m. every night.
  • Social rules – These rules involve interactive issues like name-calling, bullying, fighting, not respecting authority, and misusing technological devices (e.g., computer, phone, tablet, iPad). Rules that align with this category could be stated as 1) Use the (specific device) within the allotted time frame, 2) Don’t touch other people’s property without permission, 3) Shut off phones while eating dinner, 4) Use appropriate language, volume, and tone in and out of the house. It is helpful to demonstrate what is meant by these rules so children can fully understand them.
  • Cultural rules – Cultural rules center around the way we treat minority groups based on their disability, sexual orientation, race, and religion. Rules in this category include 1) Don’t insult other people’s religious dress or customs, 2) Don’t offer food to someone who is observing a fast.
  • Personal rules – These are rules that the children determine themselves. The rules help them be better family and community members, succeed in school, and improve the way they treat others. Examples of rules may be 1) I will not interrupt others when they talk, 2) I will complete my homework without watching TV, 3) I will walk the dog for 30 minutes every day after dinner.

Types of Rules Children See in Real Life

It is also important to point out examples of real-life rules. Children will begin to identify with these rules and then through observation, they will learn how to deal with similar incidences. By witnessing real-life examples, children see the relevance of rules in their own lives.

  • Observing road signs and safety rules when riding in a passenger car, biking, flying in an airplane, or using any other mode of transportation. They wear a seatbelt, bike helmet, and they don’t walk around the plane when they are told to sit down. In addition, seeing how you observed the stop-and-go lights and how you treat others who share the road (fellow drivers, pedestrians, bikers) goes a long way to understanding the importance and purpose of rules.
  • Learning to resolve conflicts whether at home, school, or in the neighborhood is another area that children can identify with. Children can begin to resolve disagreements and misunderstandings so they are better-equipped to work and play together.
  • Following rules in board games and sports helps children to see the fun and enjoyment that happens when rules are adhered to. Games and sports activities allow people to take turns, accept the consequences of their actions, and learn to treat others with respect. Without rules, the game/sport cannot be properly played or enjoyed.

Some Tips Worth Considering for Parents

When talking about rules and laws with your elementary-aged children, it would be helpful for you to speak in a tone that is conversational rather than threatening or forceful. It is also essential that you listen to your children and involve them in the process of thinking about goals, talking about them, and establishing them. Your children are more apt to understand and be successful with following them. And it is suggested that when you decide on the rules, they should be age-appropriate and not be overwhelming (e.g., too difficult to understand or too many). Lastly, you need to follow through on consequences (offering consistent praise and discipline) so the rules become habits.

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