The problem with the positive rules was that there didn’t seem to be a very good way to teach them. The old rules were mostly taught when children broke them. If the rule is “No hitting” and one kid hits another, you’d teach the child the rule in that moment. “What you just did was wrong.” You’d tell him to go sit in the corner, or go to his room, or apologize. But in those moments, everyone’s upset. The kid who got hit is crying, the hitter is angry and scared, and the grown-up is amping up the authority. The offending child gets all the attention. The rule doesn’t stick.
Still, Glasser saw that kids seemed to like “no” rules because they’re clear. The line of transgression was definite. He had an idea: What if he told the children how great they were when they didn’t break a rule? It would be like a video game. When you do something great while playing a video game—when you simply do what the game expects—you get points and you get to keep going. When you go out of bounds or break one of the game’s rules, no one yells at you or reminds you what rule you’ve broken. You simply miss a turn or lose points. And there is no grudge once you pay the fine. As Glasser wrote in his first book in 1999, Transforming the Difficult Child, “When the consequence is over, it’s right back to scoring.”
Glasser later had a sudden insight into a new way to approach rules altogether.
And so he thought, What if a child was sitting quietly, not bothering anyone, and you went out of your way to congratulate him on that, very specifically, by telling him how proud you are that he’s not hitting anyone, not screaming, not throwing toys, but just sitting quietly? What if you gave a child the equivalent of points—what if you thanked him or hugged him—for not putting his feet on the couch? How would he respond to that?
He’ll like it, it turns out.
“I started accusing kids of being successful for not breaking rules. Nobody ever in my professional career had done that,” he says. “All of a sudden—and it was as weird as it could be—I knew I was speaking to some level of a kid’s soul. I knew it was nourishing them in some way. It was like me weeping at Michael Davis’s house. In my professional career, no kid had ever been told they were successful when it came to rules.”