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Children’s Rules

I recently asked a group of 7 and 8 year-old children a question. “If you could make one rule that everyone in the world had to follow, what would be your rule?” Most sat silently for a few seconds. “One rule that everybody follows at school and home and wherever they are,” I said.

Maddy* said, “Never do anything without permission.”

Katie, a girl of few words, didn’t hesitate to say, “Obey.” When I prodded her to explain she shook her head and said, “Just obey.”

Kylie needed only two words. “Follow directions.”

“Don’t be bad,” said Isaiah and then he elaborated. “Like don’t punch or say mean words or anything.”

Ellie said, “Don’t hit anyone and don’t say bad words.” She looked off into space. “Well, it’s okay for Mommas to say a bad word. Like if two parents got mad at each other, they could cuss. But not to kids.” I nodded. Ellie took a deep breath and then said, “But there’s another rule. If a kid sees a bully, she can tell a parent.”

“To not fight. If someone is nice, don’t be mean back to them. Momma says don’t be afraid. Don’t be scared. Be brave. That’s what I’d do,” Annie said.

Lannie said, “Always be nice.” I asked what nice meant. “You know, like help each other and say nice things.”

No doubt, these children’s rules come from their experiences. I can hear their teachers telling them to follow directions and their mothers saying they must obey. For those children who immediately thought of not fighting, I wondered if they’d recently made a fist and punched someone. And it’s interesting that two children put hitting someone and saying mean or bad words together.

I wondered what Maddy had done without permission, and I wondered if Ellie’s Momma had just explained to her that it’s okay for grown- ups to say bad words. I remember a time I dropped and spilled a gallon of milk on the kitchen floor and screamed a word that can’t be printed here. Then, like Ellie’s Mom, I tried to explain that sometimes adults say words, but it’s not okay for children.

What does the word nice mean? Certainly helping each other. Kind. Pleasant.  We adults often tell children, “Now be nice,” and we assume they know what it means.

These children’s rules can be grouped into a short list.

1. Obey

2. Follow directions

3. Don’t hit

4. Don’t say bad or mean words

5. Be nice

The most unique rule was William’s. He didn’t think about behavior, but instead had a whole different idea. “Everyday, everybody would get gold. Lots of gold. And they could spend it on whatever they want.” I asked how he’d spend his gold. “I’d buy 100 toys!” He raised both his fists high above his head three times to emphasize the toys he’d buy. “ Books! Blocks! Legos! Yeah, that’ll be great!” he said.

Yes, William, that would be great. I silently congratulated him on his choice of toys. And wouldn’t it be great if we adults followed children’s rules?


*Names changed



2 Responses

  1. May I print these rules to post at the salon?

    Sent from my iPhone



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