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Rules and Responsibilities

It is clear from the Cycle of Development that all children need to grapple with the issue of rules. Pushing against boundaries is a natural and necessary part of growing up. It enables the child to get a very real sense as to where the boundaries are and, when they are clear and consistent, provides a much-needed sense of securtiy. This security then frees him up to do other important tasks such as exploring the world around him. 

The process of beginning to deal with boundaries really becomes a key task during the Thinking stage when the child is given instructions related to safety - 'Don't touch' etc. At the same time, because he is beginning to develop his sense of identity - of being separate from others around him - he will push against such boundaries. He is starting to think for himself - and this may well lead to behaviour that is at odds with the adults' expectations. Furthermore, as he spends an increasing amount of time outside of the home - playschool, nursery etc - he will be needing to check out where the boundaries lie in each of these settings. This runs alongside his continuing need to establish his own identity - as seen in particular during the Identity and Power stage (3-6yrs). This is the time for seriously exploring the extent of his personal power and how he can influence others. 

The next stage - Skills and Structure (6-12yrs) - brings with it further tasks related to rules. The child will be starting to notice inconsistencies in the extent to which rules are imposed and followed and questioning what is going on  - 'Why is it that the speed limit is 60mph, but you are driving at 70?'; 'All my frineds are allowed a mobile phone, why aren't it?'; 'I'm allowed to swear at home so what's the big deal with swearing at school?'


In the classroom
Dealing with boundary-pushing behaviour within the classroom, especially with youngsters who, given their age,  'should know better', can be a real challenge. Such behaviour will often be described as defiance - with all the emotional connotations this brings. It is all too easy to begin to see it as a personal challenge to the adult's authority and professional competency - thus fuelling conflict that can quickly spiral. Further information on 'Defiance' can be found by Clicking here


Assessment Questions

Does the child know the rules/expectations? - be careful not to assume he does

Does he understand them? - again, avoid assuming this is the case

Is it all rules that aren't followed - or specific ones? When does the pupil follow adults' expectations?

What is the child trying to communicate through his behaviour? - 'I need to know where the boundaries are'?; 'Please keep the boundaries in place so that I can feel secure'?; 'I need to have a greater sense of control/power - and arguing and pushing against you is the only way I know how to do so at this point in time'?


Behaviours Some examples Possible developmental tasks Affirmations Some strategies
Refusal to follow instructions

Confrontations when expectations are expressed and reinforced
To start to follow simple safety commands eg stop, come here, go there

To test reality, to push against boundaries and other people

To check out family/school rules and structures

To learn the relevance of rules

To experience the consequences of breaking rules

To learn what's one's own responsibility and that of others
You can say no and push the limits as much as you need to - and we will keep you and others safe as you do so

It's Ok for you to be angry, and we won't let you hurt yourself or others

You can learn the results of your behaviour

You can try out different ways of being powerful

You can learn the rules that help you live with others

You can learn when and how to disagree

You can think before you say 'Yes' or 'No'

We still want to be with you when we differ and we can learn together

Check on knowledge and understanding of rules - 'Charlie, what is our rule for sharing?'; 'Show me how you would share this toy for the next couple of minutes'

'When and then' instructions - 'When you've completed the work, then you can go out to play/go on the computer ...'

Discussions on the relevance of rules

Playing games - with and without rules; discuss benefits of rules - and the frustrations that can naturally arise

Giving responsibility around the classroom - promoting self-esteem and a sense of control

Positive reinforcement of times when expectations are followed

Contracting triangles - these help the pupil to see how the expectations fit into the wider picture. They also provide an opportunity to help him/her explore rights and responsibilities

See also Defiance

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