With children, what is the point of rules?

This seems like a silly question, but it's really not, and Ward loves to answer such questions. Rules govern our lives and our society. The provide clear boundaries between what's acceptable and what isn't. The Constitution, here in America, is really just a set of rules, yet it forms the very basis of our country. It's the same with children: everyone may have a slightly different approach, but having rules themselves, and following them, is essential to success.

So what happens when children don't learn the rules?

Chaos, and plenty of it. There are always children raised with little or no accountability - an understanding of what we have to answer for - and they struggle mightily to be successful, or even functional, in modern society. For years, Ward has helped these children and their parents. Usually, children who are having trouble with the rules first encounter serious problems in pre-Kindergarten classes, or during their first school experience. Teachers try to lay down simple rules for children to follow and those who never learned how to take direction start finding themselves constantly in time out, being spoken to, or taken aside. Children who are able to learn to live in two different worlds - one in school and another at home - can sometimes find success. Children who refuse to budge are often expelled from pre-K classes or find themselves in special educational programs, oftentimes against their will and their parents' will. Other problems, just in society (going to stores, trouble with the law, issues with friends and going to other houses) continue until the child is properly retrained.

What sort of rules are best?

That's a matter of personal opinion, of course, but over the years Ward has found that all rules can fit into three categories. He helps families use these three categories to make rules simple for everyone involved.

What are the three categories?

Safety, anger management, and responsibility.

Most rules for kids fit into these three categories?

Yes - here's a sample from a typical household, which is used as a sort of template for families who are interested in have clear, established, consistent rules in their home:

  • There will be safety, such as no harming (or threatening to harm) yourself or others, property destruction, use of weapons, school suspensions, or any police involvement " There will be anger management, to include taking space when necessary, accepting "no" for an answer, controlling voice and behavior, respecting siblings and pets, and having permission to use other people's things. " There will be responsibility, complete chores when asked, maintain daily hygiene, finish homework, clean room, care for pets, make sure parents know where you are, and take medication as prescribed

What does the first rule mean, specifically?

For "Safety" if a child physically hurts another person, the rule has been broken. Making suicidal or homicidal threats is just as serious, and breaking someone's property as an adult is an illegal offense. Using weapons, being suspended from school, or having the police involved in any way means that Rule #1 has been broken. Breaking Rule #1 can lead to police involvement, as well as PINS, a call to MCAT, or other resources as necessary.

What happens if Rule #1 is broken, then?

That's a very serious violation. Ward strongly encourages families to stop interacting with the child, maintain visual contact for safety purposes, and immediately contact the police. Under certain conditions, MCAT - the Mobile Crisis Assessment Team, available 24 hours everyday - would be called. Under other conditions, especially when a child is on PINS or has close DSS involvement, Ward will speak with the on-call worker or counselor. If the first rule is broken, Ward requests notification as soon as the parent is able to do so.

How about the other rules?

Rule #2 is about anger management, something that's almost-always a problem for children who struggle with the rules. It's designed, however, to emphasize solutions and appropriate choices

What if Rule #2 is broken?

Although less serious than if the first rule is broken, anger management is an important skill to a child. Helping a child learn to control anger is every parents' responsibility. See "Anger" on this web site for more thoughts and direction.

What about Rule #3?

Rule #3, interestingly, is what most families think of as their Rules Of The House. Here is where basic responsibilities come in, such as chores, homework, and such. For a typical family in Herkimer County, that might mean something like: complete chores when asked, maintain daily hygiene, finish homework, clean room, care for pets, make sure parents know where you are, and take medication as prescribed. Violating Rule #3 usually results in a consequence appropriate to the violation. For example, if a child refuses to clean a room despite repeated and reasonable requests, Ward Halverson recommends going into the room with a garbage bag and emptying out all toys, electronics, games, or items of value to the child, leaving only those things required by law (a bed, bedding, clothes, and a places to keep them). The child then earns those items back over time by - simply - keeping the room clean appropriately.

Does this work for every family?

Not necessarily. For some families, a problem that looks like Oppositional Defiance Disorder on the surface turns out to be something else, once Ward gets to know the family much better and teases apart the situation. However, the system itself almost invariably improves every family's management of their children. It's basic good parenting.