Monday, April 2, 2012

Do Your Rules Make Sense?


Children live in a world in which they often have little control.  Rules abound.  Some rules are for their safety.  Some are to ensure good health.  Rules can be the only thing standing between us and utter chaos.  Sometimes, however, rules we impose on children have no real purpose and impede their creativity.  As the Director of Schools at Temple Shalom of Aberdeen, it is my job to determine which rules are important and which rules make no sense.  Think about what we impose on children when we say:

  • “Don’t mix the Play Doh.”  - Why?  Why can’t children mix the Play Doh?  For some reason, adults have decided that the Play Doh must stay segregated – one color per can.  After all, if we mix it how will we know which lid to put on the can?  Think about how much children learn when they mix the Play Doh.  They learn that when you combine colors, you get a different color.  They learn that the consistency won’t change even though the color does.  At The Early Learning Center of Temple Shalom, we mix the Play Doh.  I admit it.  I am that crazy school director who has banned the “Don’t Mix the Play Doh Rule.”  The children still enjoy using the substance.  When it dries out, which it do anyway, we simply replace it.  No harm done.
  • “Don’t peel the paper off of the crayon.” – Why?  Why does the crayon have to have a wrapper?  The ability of the crayon to be used for coloring is not impeded by the lack of a wrapper.  Chances are that the children using the crayons are not reading the name of the color.  They are looking at the crayon to determine if it is or is not the color they need. The wrapper is really an advertisement to help adults remember which company produced the crayon.  It is a means of keeping their brand in the forefront of your mind.  Keep the wrapper.  Peel the wrapper.  It really doesn’t matter because the crayon still works.
  • “You must say ‘I’m sorry’” – What do the words “I’m sorry” mean? What impact does it have on a child when they are forced to use those words?  I submit that the words “I’m sorry” are meaningless to young children.   Those two words are actually far less meaningful than asking a child to say that they will not do something again.  If a child pushes a friend, it is important to discuss how pushing can hurt someone.  Rather than say “I’m sorry,” ask the child to tell the friend that he/she will not push again.  If a child grabs a toy from a friend, it is more meaningful to ask the child to say, “I will not take the toy from you again.”  Even as adults we admit that once you do something offensive, “I’m sorry” doesn’t take it back and it doesn’t repair the damage.  Teaching children to think about their behavior will be a lesson that will last much longer than the use of two words that lack substance.  I do agree that use of these words is a social convention that is hard to avoid.  If you do feel that your child should say “I’m sorry,” be sure to add the expected behavior to the statement.  I’m sorry.  I will make the next paragraph shorter.
 When teaching children in a classroom or interacting with your children at home, take the time to consider the adult concepts we impose on our youth.  Rules should have a logical reason for existing.  They should help children make sense of their world.  Do the rules you impose ensure health, safety and make sense?


Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved
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13 comments:

  1. There is so much truth to be said here. Good luck in getting your message out.

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  2. I disagree about the I'm sorry. Its socially "right." However, I teach kids "I forgive you," as opposed to "That's ok" because its NOT ok to have been hit or someone to take away your crayon.

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    1. As I wrote in the blog, I believe saying "I'm sorry" alone is meaningless. Children of this age are egocentric and cannot understand how the other person feels. They simply are not ready to feel empathy. They can discuss how it would feel to them and tell their friend that they will not do it again. Saying "I will not push you again" is concrete - it has meaning. Adding the social convention of saying "I'm sorry" to the discussion is fine as long as the adults acknowledge that it is just that - a convention of our society that has no meaning to the child. Even when we use the words "Thank you" in my school, we add what we are thankful for. "Thank you for the snack" helps them to connect the action taking place to the words they are using.

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    2. The 2 year olds that I work with have no concept of what sorry actually means, it's just a learnt response. They think that if they say the words then all is forgotten and they can return to play sooner!

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    3. I agree totally with the no "I'm sorry" policy..in our center we believe in retribution. If a child hits another child, the hitter needs to do something to help make the hurt child feel better; get an ice pack, draw a picture for the child...something to offer to the child other than words.

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  3. I agree with the point about saying sorry, but as for the playdoh and crayons - I don't think there's anything wrong in saying that that is how we look after our things. Having respect for schools or kindys or other people's things is an important rule too

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    1. I don't see how mixing Play Doh or peeling crayons means that the item has been damaged. I think taking care of the Play Doh means that we put it in a container when we are done so it doesn't dry out. Taking care of the crayons means not intentionally breaking them and/or putting them where they belong when we are done. I think that as long as the item is usable again, we are good to go.

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  4. I agree! I do the "I'm sorry" these days with her as she has taken the habit to shout at me and assess her own opinion but it doesn't really work. I will try and explain why it's not ok to shout to mummy next time. Thanks.

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  5. Agree with this post.
    My son is 4, and when we tell him to say "I'm sorry" he looks at me, and says Mom, we don't tell Jesus we're sorry when we sin, so why should we tell people we're sorry for doing something sinful to them?
    I never thought about "I'm sorry" from that perspective, and my 4yr old has made me see it from another view point.

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    1. Those 2 words are highly over-rated. They don't change anything unless the child is taught to understand why a certain behavior is inappropriate.

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  6. You can't just say "I'm sorry" in isolation with no other conversations. Of course that is meaningless. But when are children supposed to start learning to say this? It's something that as an adult makes a huge difference. It says that you regret what you did and you are admitting you were wrong in your actions. It can diffuse a situation and have a big impact. Children should learn that it's important to say it, while also learning the meaning of it as well. Since when have people JUST had a child say I'm sorry with no explanation of why it was wrong, how it effects other people, why we say we're sorry and etc? Any good parent or caretaker knows that teaching anything in isolation is not effective for children. They need to know how their words connect to their actions, and how their words and actions effect others around them.

    About the crayon wrappers, I think asking them to leave the wrappers on is teaching them to respect property. If they are allowed to peel paper off of one thing, then that translates to them that they can peel paper off of anything. They don't know the difference between taking paper off a crayon and taking paper off a display, or a book, or anything else that may have some sort of paper or wrapper on it. I don't think when people ask children to leave the wrappers on crayons, that its actually about the crayon. Of course no one cares about a crayon having a wrapper or not, its the bigger picture of how to treat things. Again, the idea of isolation.

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  7. Cindy, I love your blog and this post is excellent!

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