Dr Richard C. Woolfson
You raise your child to keep rules, to respect adults, to follow instructions and to obey his teachers. On the other hand, you want him to have a free-wheeling nature, so that he can make decisions and express his individuality. This balance is hard to achieve. What can happen is that a child becomes so fearful of breaking the rules in school that he tries extremely hard to toe the line and gets very upset if he accidentally does something that would result in a scolding (like forgetting his name badge). Yet it is possible to encourage your child’s rule-bound behaviour while at the same time encouraging his free spirit.
There is nothing wrong with your six-year-old wanting to stick to the rules at school (or the rules at home or in society). In fact, that’s an admirable quality. But it is better if he values rules because he understands them and their purpose, rather than valuing rules just because they are there. Without understanding the underlying purpose, he follows rules blindly, mainly through fear of punishment rather than through appreciation of their impact – that would squash his free-wheeling nature altogether.
That’s why you should always try to explain the purpose of a rule to your child, instead of saying “Do this because I tell you to do it.” Children this age rarely find that sort of argument very convincing. True, your child may follow a rule on that basis, but for how long? So explain to him the positive benefits of following the rule, and the implications of breaking it.
For instance, there is the important school rule that he should always complete his homework on time. This rule ensures that he keeps up with curriculum, that he follows the class lesson the next day and that he takes pride in his progress. If he doesn’t complete his homework, he would start to experience difficulties in keeping up with the curriculum, disapproval from his teacher and perhaps also annoyance from his peers. In addition, his classmates may be held back while the teacher gives him extra attention with his work. Put this way, the importance of the rule about homework makes sense to your six-ear-old. Now he is more likely to follow it out of conviction, rather than fear.
Thinking for himself
Giving explanations of rules also helps your child to judge the significance of a breach of rules. After all, rules vary in importance. For instance, if your child breaks the school rule that says “No hitting other pupils”, the consequences are serious. Not only will he have displayed violence and aggression, he will also have caused physical pain to another child. No wonder she trembles at the thought of breaking that rule. Yet breaking the school rule that says “Walk on the left side of the corridor at break times” only has very minor consequences – at worst he might gently bump into another child walking in the opposite direction.
When your child is able to weigh up the significance of the various rules in his life, whether at school or at home, his free-wheeling nature remains strong. He is able to think for himself.
He approaches rules with proper understanding and respect while at the same time keeps them in perspective.
Of course he will still be keen to toe the line and he will still be upset at times when he accidentally breaks the rules. But that is thoughtful behaviour based on a good grasp of the purpose of rules and their consequences, not frightened behaviour based solely on terror of punishment.
When you encourage your child to look at this rules from this perspective, his free-wheeling stays strong.
(Photo: Olesia Bilkei/123RF.com)
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