Anna Tardos, a child psychologist at the Pikler Institute in Budapest, shared, at a course on conflict and the young child, the difference between “red rules” and “pink rules.” It was such a simple thing but it has made a profound impact on how I care for the children in my class and my own children at home. Quite simply – not all rules are created equal and some are, actually, made to be tested by children.
Red rules are very important, life-threatening, safety rules. With these rules:
- The child is not responsible for obeying — it is the adult’s responsibility.
- We can teach the child by being strict on these important rules but we always have to be there to keep the child safe.
- If something is categorically not allowed (red or closer to red) than set limits right away. If a child is really not allowed to do something, say it once and then don’t give the child the possibility of doing it.
Pink rules are quite different. They are less important and the world will not come to an end if the child breaks the rule. With these rules:
- There is room for negotiation. The child can test to see what the adult will do if he says, “NO!” He can see what the adult’s tolerance is. This involves trust of the adult.
- When the child breaks a pink rule, the adult often experiences it as a failure. However the child’s ability to negotiate a rule aids in the socialization process.
- It is not always easy to know where negotiation must end. The adult and child must be able to understand when it must stop.
There was a time when I measured my success as a teacher by how well the children in my class followed the rules. But now I strive to experience the success of children testing boundaries and negotiating rules knowing that this dance can only happen when trust has been created with the child.