At my son’s parent-teacher conference last fall, I almost fell off my chair when his preschool teacher listed the following among his developmental accomplishments: he cleaned up his toys, ate and drank neatly and raised his hand rather than interrupting her. “We are discussing Charlie, correct?” I asked. She laughed, but I had to wonder how a child who emptied toy bins on the carpet and yelled out, “Stop talking to Mommy!” when his older siblings and I were having a conversation could be the obedient angel she described.
Her secret, it turns out, was in having clearly established rules that she expected every child under her watch to follow—no excuses.
- Before moving on to one activity, clean up after yourself. Don’t start a puzzle until you’ve cleaned up the blocks…don’t watch TV until you’ve taken your completed homework and put it in your backpack. Tip: For smaller children, keep toys out of reach so they will need to ask your assistance to move from one playtime activity to another.
- Wash your hands before eating, after eating, after coming into the house from the outside and after using the potty. If you enforce this rule all time at the beginning of the school year, it eventually will become second nature. Tip: Make hand-washing more fun by choosing fun, foaming liquid soap scents, like sour apple and watermelon.
- One person at a time. It’s a little much to ask your kids to raise their hands before speaking, but it’s certainly a good idea to expect them to wait until other family members are done speaking before taking a turn! Tip: Praise your children when they do a good job of not interrupting—it’s always better to catch kids in the act of behaving rather than calling out misbehavior.
- Use your inside voice. Shouting is fine when you’re playing outside. When you’re inside, there’s no need to be loud—whether your child is just being playful and boisterous or is shouting because he’s mad. Tip: Speak very quietly if your child is shouting so she’ll have to lower her voice just to hear you!
- Follow directions. Your child might be expected to always write her name on her tests using a number 2 pencil in school—at home, you can tell her dirty dishes must be rinsed off before put into the dishwasher. Tip: Be very clear when you’re offering instructions so there’s less room for error.
- No bullying. It’s not right to pick on other children in class, and it’s not right to bully little brothers and sisters, either. Tip: Teach empathy; always ask your child to imagine things from others’ perspectives.
- Respect your surroundings. Most schools don’t allow for hats, chewing gum or littering, because all of these activities are “disrespectful” to the school. Adapt this rule as it makes sense in your house: pick up that wet towel and hang it on the rack, throw away trash, etc. Tip: Get your kids involved in home décor decisions! When they’ve helped choose what flowers to plant outside or what candles should be in the living room, they will be more invested in keeping your home beautiful.