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The Power and Payoff of Procedures

Updated: Jan 3, 2023

When asked to describe their children's best year in school, parents will often cite a specific teacher by name. The response usually goes something like this: "(teacher's name) was great! She/He was a good disciplinarian, very structured, had clear expectations, and held the students accountable. My child progressed academically and liked being at school.”

Clearly, parents recognize the characteristics of an effective teacher. During my years as a school administrator, it was not unusual for parents to request that their child be placed with a strong teacher. “You know, one that enforces rules,” one mother commented. Some parents openly admitted that they had little structure in their own home but recognized that their child needed it. I even recall one parent sharing that she wanted a teacher who would "keep my child in line" and “do the things that I should do, but don’t.” Quite telling!

As a former elementary teacher, I have first-hand knowledge that children are happier and perform better in classrooms where policies and procedures (routines) are firmly in place. Throughout my 18+ years in the classroom, the first few weeks of each school year were spent establishing routines. There were procedures for everything from lining up to proper use of water fountains to putting headings on papers and sharpening pencils, just to name a few. After several weeks of practicing, reviewing, and practicing some more, the procedures became second nature.

Periodically, we would assess and review how the class was doing in terms of fidelity. It only took a few days of missing a high interest activity (and practicing routines again) to get back on track. If a child slacked off, other students would often step in and do the reminding (or reprimanding). Children holding other children accountable is powerful!

In addition to creating a more pleasant, productive environment, procedures and routines:

1. Provide stability. Children feel a greater sense of stability when they know what to expect. Consistent procedures and routines help families, homes, and businesses (including schools) run smoothly. The less disruptive the environment, the more stable children feel.

2. Give children a sense of security. Fears are real. Fear of the dark, ghosts, water, thunder and dying are not uncommon in children. Establishing routines that children can count on provides them with a sense of security that can help them better manage their fears.

3. Help children develop self-regulation (self-discipline and self-control). Self-regulation involves performing a task and/or behaving in a certain manner, even when one would rather not. Organized, consistent routines and procedures require accountability and accountability requires self-regulation.

4. Teach children how to manage themselves and their environments - self-reliance. Being able to follow outlined procedures efficiently prepares the way for children to handle larger responsibilities. Increasing a child’s capacity in this way builds self-reliance. Self-reliant children are better able to manage themselves and their environment because their ability to manage responsibilities has broadened.

5. Help children cope with unpredictable change - confidence and resilience. While routines are comfortable and predictable, unpredictable situations can be stressful, particularly for children. Skills used to successfully manage familiar situations can be transferred to unfamiliar situations. Confidence in handling the 'predictable' can build the confidence and resilience needed to cope with the 'unpredictable.'

Procedures and routines can improve the quality of life in the home by eliminating confusion (and chaos) and afford parents more opportunities to teach their children meaningful life lessons. As the leaders of the family, it is the parents, not the children, who are the keys to change and the ultimate gatekeepers.

With an improved home environment needed in many households, the following quote by former British Prime Minister George Canning (1770-1827) is worthy of reflection: "Indecision and delays are the parents of failure."

© Sharon Knapp Lamberth, August 28, 2021



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