Rules for Behaviour Modification

You guys, I know you know this, but it’s worth saying again… there are some seriously wonderful, brilliant, and generous camp folks out there.

One of them happens to be my “internet friend” Dave Hennessy.
Dave and I were chatting the other day, checking in with each other on how our goals and future plans are going and he mentioned one of his “DaveRules” during that conversation. I, of course, asked for more information and when he shared his set of rules with me I LOVED the concept and asked him to write something that I could share with you good folks in my little corner of the internet.

So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Dave, and offer him a huge thank you for sharing his rules for behaviour modification with us.



“Alexis, what are you doing?” Alexis was 11 years old, but was army-crawling on a day’s worth of dirt carpet after a kindergartener. She looked up and smiled, “I don’t know”.

“How old are you?”

“Elllevveennnn,” she said in a sing-song voice.

“What rule are you breaking?” I said.

“Rule number twwwwoooo.” She sang-song, but more dejected this time.

“Which is?”

“Use common sense.” Eye roll.

“And now?” I stated without emotion.

“Have a seat,” walking over to the couch.

“For?” We had been through this before. “Eleven minutes.”

Alexis wasn’t happy, but she sat without another word and watched the group play. After less than 5 minutes, I have her the thumbs-up, meaning ‘go play’.




“Secure boundaries set by the [caregiver] (not negotiated by the child) reduce anxiety. Rules and routines like meal times, bed times, homework time, and screen time — that are set and monitored by the parent — create predictability in a child’s life. Predictability reduces uncertainty, and that reduces anxiety.

“a child’s brain is not fully developed, and hence shouldn’t be given decision-making power over adults. … Even as we know more about brain development, we seem to have become less attuned to thinking about our children’s unique developmental stage, and what is an appropriate level of choice for them to have.

“For many families, a child’s emotions, needs and desires can run the parent’s whole day rather than the other way around. Narcissism is normal, and is developmentally appropriate in small children.

“In any developmental task from walking to talking to learning to read or drive a car, kids need to struggle. Struggle is how we mature and learn mastery of new things. If children are brought up with the expectation that they will always be “in charge,” they want things to be easy. They also want parents to remove struggle and, fix their disappointments.

“Parents who set boundaries are not trying to make their child happy in the moment (though sometimes they are!). Rather, more importantly, they are trying to have their child develop skills to successfully launch into the world at 18.”

Source: Mind Body Green – Why it’s important to set healthy boundaries with your kids




Children of all ages thrive when they win, and many are so rule-centric that when they lose they immediate blame someone for breaking the rules. In our after school program, the game was easy: behave well and meet your expectations (complete homework, get exercise, have fun, make friends, relax). To varying degrees they need our help; mostly children need a Mentor, a Coach, a Sensei, a Wizard, a Jedi Master that is on their side as they learn and grow. Young people need help developing self-regulation and discipline, and along the way learn passion and persistence (grit).




To win the game at our child care, we made 3 rules. They were broad enough to cover almost any circumstance and apply to children of all ages. I was the Child Care Director, so they were “DaveRules” and easily became “BlairRules” or “GaytonRules” (at Gayton Elementary). The first two rules were always the same:



And the third rule was whatever the group needed to focus on: “Keep your hands to yourself”, “Be responsible”, “Clean up your mess”. (Each rule phrased in the positive.)




One simple consequence meant no thinking and no getting upset with breaking the rules. There was no arguing, simply: “Have a seat.” This allowed for quiet time to calm down (but not a “time out”) that is generally age-appropriate. We had children sit for however many minutes they were old (Alexis was 11, so 11 minutes) however we never truly enforced that. Goodness knows every 6 year old thought they were sitting for 6 minutes, but truly it was always less (but they don’t need to know that). After they sat and calmed down, they got up. The issue was over. No lengthy discussion about what they did wrong. As long as they know what rule they broke and could repeat it, they began to internalize it and define what “common sense” meant to them. Children stopped getting upset because they broke the rules. Staff stopping having their buttons pushed and getting upset with bad behavior.




Every leader has a set of guidelines for their followers. These are the boundaries for what they will accept or suggestions on how to live a good life. If you try to follow my DaveRules, you understand what I value and I can work hard to be the best Sensei or Coach that I can. More than anything else, I hold myself to these standards to ‘practice what I preach’.


Rule #3: BOOST.


Boost your energy level, give it your all. Hustle. Be present. Be passionate. Be all-in. Be enthusiastic. Have passion. Passion is in there twice. And have joie de vivre.

Most people know that the secret to winning is simply “show up”. I say show up, but be MORE than everyone else.




I have three more life rules that I like to share with my mentees. Books and books and books have been written about these ideas and I’ve added a note of explanation where appropriate.

#4: GIVE GENEROUSLY. For each dollar you give, four will come back. You can never run out of compliments.

#5: PRACTICE COURAGE. Courage is forcing yourself to do something scary. Moral courage is required to be a good person.

#6: STAY CURIOUS. Only life-long learners that continue to invest in themselves will be successful in the long run.

Dave's Rules.png




DaveRules are malleable and this most recent list, made up of 6, has only been in place for a few months. I have been developing this system since 2008 and with each new camp, each new situation, the DaveRules changed. Only the first two have stayed the same, when I came up with them on a whim working with kindergarteners: Be Nice, Use Common Sense. As I learn, some things seem to be so foundational and important they’ve garnered a special spot and are now DaveRules. Other rules have been merged into one idea (i.e. “BOOST”). Make it your own. Just KISS.


Davey Hennessey is celebrating his 17th summer leading YMCA camping programs and completed his Master in Camp Administration and Leadership in November 2014. MARF stands for Maintain Always Rigid Flexibility and KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. Davey can be reached at for suggestions of books to read.



So what do you think? Isn’t that some great advice?
Do you have any that you’d add to the list for YOUR program?

Tell us about it in the comment section below (or just comment to thank Dave for sharing  with us! 🙂  )

Categories: Listables | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Rules for Behaviour Modification

  1. Jessica

    Dave has been a long time mentor of mine and I know these rules well. I’ve used them at camp, on the bus, and in my classroom as a teacher during the school year. They are simple, easy to enforce, kids buy in to them, and it makes them more involved in decision making. I have not met a single child in seven years at camp and four years of teaching that failed to relate to these rules. I’ve worked with grades K-10… these rules work. I’m incredibly thankful to call Dave a mentor and friend. I’m glad others are sharing his work! Thank you 🙂


    • Thanks for your note Jessica.

      It’s so awesome to hear confirmation that Dave’s rules can work in any situation (although, there was no doubt in my mind!).
      I’m also thrilled to hear about your mentor/ mentee relationship. I think one of the most important ways to grow and learn professionally is through working with a good mentor.



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