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respect for authority


          A story or picture about a rule being broken


A common problem that I often see in my practice and schools today is that children have not been taught to discern between levels of authority. For some children, a good friend telling them to do something is the same as if an adult in authority told them to do it.  Or, a peer's suggestion might out weigh that of the teacher's direction.

Although many times this is done intentionally, sometimes children really do not know that a teacher's words is more important than a friend's word, or that a police officer's word carries more weight when it comes to breaking a law than a law breaking adult. Children should be taught to recognize figures of authority and how to properly address them to show their respect. Figures of authorities include (but are not limited to) teachers, parents, ministers, doctors, police officers, judges, grandparents, adult relatives, etc.


The child will discern between levels of authority in social situations that require a judgment of right or wrong.


  1. A story about a rule being broken or a picture that might prompt a conversation about a rule being broken should be presented and openly discussed in a semi-structured fashion.

  2. Children should be invited to give their thoughts freely about what happened and to spark their own conversations about wrong and right.

  3. The teacher might stimulate conversation by showing the picture or telling the story, then inviting children to freely discuss their reactions while guiding conversation to the moral issues of right and wrong. An example of a picture or a story might be a teacher telling a student that s/he is not allowed to go past a certain point on the playground and then a friend telling the child that the teacher is wrong and has no right to tell the child where s/he can go.

  4. Another example might be a parent running a red light on purpose and being pulled over by a police officer who administers a ticket. Or, a parent giving a child a directive and a sibling telling the child something different. The important thing is for the story or picture to depict an issue of moral rights and wrongs and differing opinions of positions of authority.

  5. Once conversation has been stimulated and the issue discussed, the teacher can direct the course of the conversation, if necessary, as to who has the right to make rules and who must obey them. If the children are old enough, a social ordering of power can be put into place (e.g., a child must obey his/her parent, the parent must obey the directive of a police officer in relation to a traffic issue, etc.) Conflicts can then be introduced, such as what if the teacher tells you this is right and a grandmother tells you something else is right. Children can be taught how to problem solve (e.g., ask another figure of authority).

  6. Children can be asked in group unison or individually to come up with ideas of moral dilemas involving figures of authority while talking through the issue and putting resolution to them.

   Practice & Extended Activities:

Children can practice as a group, in small groups, or in pairs, related situations which address this issue. They can make up songs, banners, rules, hierarchies of authority, pictures, or other ways to practice this concept.

Children should be given opportunity to individually process this information through writing in a journal about the issue, drawing individual pictures, doing a demonstration, or completing a written or oral activity that address this issue.

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Tell a friend:

We teachers can only help the work going on, as servants wait upon a master. -  Maria Montessori

Revised: 09/24/2008.