No one feels the weight of responsibility like parents and teachers. Whether you’re in charge of one child or two dozen, everyone must understand what’s expected and what’s important—or you are going to have a rough time keeping any semblance of order.

There are at least three types of priorities every home or classroom should set:

Ethical Priorities

Some ethical priorities everyone should internalize from early childhood are:

Be willing to promptly admit and make amends for your mistakes.

Respect everyone else as human beings with feelings and dignity, however much their backgrounds or opinions differ from yours.

Don’t push ahead or take more than your fair share.

Respect official rules: they’re there to keep order.


Remember, though: Unless you know and live by these values, the children won’t act with integrity or responsibility either. If you regularly tell “little white lies” to dodge trouble, no amount of scolding will convince the kids to be truthful with you. Why should they accept a standard you evidently don’t believe in yourself?

Health-and-Safety Priorities

Society’s generally accepted rules for children’s safety are now stricter than even a generation ago. And you really don’t want your kids riding without seat belts just because previous generations lived to tell about it. However, you may be unsure of whether to forbid roughhousing, climbing trees, or other things that previous generations took for granted but that horrify many modern parents. If you’re a teacher and your school has official safety rules, you’re off the hook for most such decisions. Otherwise, rely on what you personally know about your children and your neighborhood, not what some expert across the country wrote.


There are, however, a few universal nonnegotiables:

Always use proper safety equipment when traveling, playing a sport, or working with tools.

Look carefully both ways before entering a street—or any other drive used by motorized traffic.

Don’t put your hands or feet into strange places; don’t try to pet strange or wild animals.

Don’t go swimming or engage in other “out of one’s everyday element” activities without the presence of a buddy or supervisor.

Progress Priorities


Often overlooked amid daily concerns for keeping order and completing to-do lists, progress priorities are vital: they comprise long-term goals for the household/classroom as a whole and each child as an individual. This means encouraging children to develop their unique skills and passions; seeing every child, even in a large group, as an individual; and avoiding the common error of regarding life as one long day-to-day.

The progress priorities you set will be unique to your environment and your children, but a few guidelines are:

Respect children as unique human beings. Never compare them to each other or to some imagined ideal.

Let the kids help guide the goals. Let them stretch themselves a bit beyond your comfort zone.

Encourage kids to find and follow their dreams. Let them set priorities of their own!