Master Teaching

a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher

Harmony in Boundaries

(Harmony is an important value in Chinese culture. In this post from LEAPAsia’s blog in China, we use it to help make peace between parents/teachers and children.)

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Who’s in control in your home or classroom, you or your child/students?
If you have no control or the children are out of control, then they may need some boundaries.

Why are boundaries good?
Setting age appropriate boundaries for children has benefits and not just for them. You also benefit.

Boundaries help children feel safe and loved. Children “want and need clear boundaries, structure, and consistency. They need to feel safe, cared for, and respected. It is always the right thing to set high expectations for students, not just in academic terms, but for their behavior and conduct.” [1]

Boundaries also make life less stressful for adults. When children are out of control in a classroom, it can quickly turn into chaos. When parents have no control at home, they carry around a huge burden. In either case, frustration can build until adults explode with anger which can hurt children emotionally and physically.[2]

What do boundaries look like in a classroom?
When Dale De Weerd was teaching 4th grade in a U.S. primary school, each year he would negotiate a set of classroom behavior expectations with his students and then post them. They usually ended up looking something like this. (Number 2 means a voice that fits the circumstances, not too loud or soft.)

Classroom Rules:

1) Respect others.
2) Use the right kind of voice.
3) Do our best work.
4) Take care of our school.

What do I notice when I read these expectations? 1) There are only four simple rules, making it easy for children to understand and remember. 2) Only four, but they cover a lot of ground, including students’ attitudes, behavior, and responsibilities. 3) They’re focused on positives, what to do rather than what not to do. 5) And since they were negotiated, the students might feel a deeper responsibility to follow them.

What I also notice is Dale’s approach to “control.” Control doesn’t mean lording over but managing, not oppressing but giving children choice and voice inside boundaries. In fact, Dale also asked his students to negotiate a set of rules for him which were posted next to their classroom rules.

What do boundaries look like at home?
Should parents negotiate a set of 3 or 4 rules with their children? You could, or you could try something else. As part of their pleasure reading, Kim & Nick Todd read Have you Filled a Bucket Today[3] to their two boys. The book says that everyone carries around a bucket. When it’s full, they’re happy. When it’s empty, they’re not. Our kindness, cooperation, and friendship fill up others’ buckets. When we’re disrespectful, selfish, and mean, we empty their buckets.

For a while every time I was in the Todds’ home, I would hear things like: You cleaned up all those toys by yourself. That fills my bucket, Son. Or When you say something like that to your brother, does that fill his bucket? What do you need to do? The book gave this family an easy way of talking about boundaries.

When someone crosses a boundary, what should you do?
If it’s you, obviously, you should admit you’re wrong and apologize. I remember hearing Kim say something like this once to her son: I just emptied your bucket, didn’t I? I’m sorry. What can I do to fill it back up?

If it’s a child who’s crossed a boundary, especially a serious one, she may need to work through what happened and come to some conclusions herself. “Remember that it is by teaching your child how to own up to the consequences of his actions that he will grow up to be a truly free individual. A person who does not own his actions is forever a slave.”[4]

Kim and Dale have used questions like the ones below to help children own their actions (in private conversations):

  1. What went wrong?
  2. Whose fault is it? (Children need to take responsibility for their actions even if someone else is also at fault.)
  3. What could you do differently next time?
  4. How can you make it right this time?

Who’s in control in your home or classroom?
If there’s an imbalance, 放心, set your heart at rest; it’s not too late to change. The adjustment period may seem long and difficult, but the results will restore harmony. 加油![5]


[1] Arne Duncan, “Rethinking School Discipline,” U.S. Department of Education, January 8, 2014, http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/rethinking-school-discipline.
[2] Marilyn Wedge, “What Kind of Discipline is Right for Kids?,” Psychology Today, April 14, 2012, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/suffer-the-children/201204/what-kind-discipline-is-right-kids.
[3]  Carol McCloud, Have You Filled a Bucket Today? (Northville, MI: Ferne Press, 2006).
[4]Barbara L. Minton, “Strong Boundaries Create Secure Children,” Natural News, May 10, 2008, http://www.naturalnews.com/023208_child_children_life.html#.
[2] This literally means “add oil.” It’s a cheer used at sporting events, or in life, to spur people on.

Further exploration

  • If you’d like to read the Chinese version of this post, you can find it here (Please send your Chinese friends to this site. Master Teaching is usually blocked in China.):
    设定融洽的界限WeChat QR Code
  • If you or a friend would like to join our WeChat page, you can scan the QR code.

What’s your perspective?

We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.

  • How do you find harmony in boundaries?
  • Do you know children who need an advocate? How do you tear down walls for them?

Post Author

Melissa K. Smith

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This entry was posted on May 18, 2016 by in education as justice, LEAPAsia on WeChat, Melissa K. Smith, students who act out.

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