Setting limits, also known as discipline, promoting cooperation, making kids mind, etc., etc., etc., can certainly drive adults “bananas.” Some of us have very clear ideas of what we expect from children. We run up against problems when a child tests our limits. For others of us, expectations are not as clear. So, we must first determine what behavior we expect from our children before we attempt to set limits. Children need structure in their lives. Without limits, they may be anxious, unruly, unpleasant to be around and, sometimes, even a danger to themselves or others. Like it or not, we adults must set those limits.
When children are small, we try to create a protective environment within which they can begin to explore and develop. This protective playpen gradually expands to become a fenced-in yard, then the neighborhood, the school, the community and the world. Young children feel more secure and successful when they can operate within known boundaries and routines.
It is an adult responsibility to teach children how to live in a social setting so that they will be able to get along with others in a complex world. This learning process lays the foundation for the development of selfcontrol on which the child builds over the years. As a child’s sense of internal control grows, it guides behavior when no one is around. This process is not a straight line. Children progress and regress on their way to maturity.
If setting limits is so necessary, why do parents feel so guilty?
“Since my boy turned two, all I say is NO. The bad times seem to outnumber the good. I’m feeling tired and guilty because I’m not handling it as well as I think I should.” “I have been working awfully hard lately and I feel like I never see my child. It makes it really hard for me to say ‘bedtime is bedtime’ – and mean it absolutely.”
Many adults worry that if they set limits children will not like them or that by setting limits they will somehow scar children for life. But children need to know what is acceptable behavior and what will not be allowed. Discipline is teaching “yes” as well as teaching “no.” T. Berry Brazelton, the noted pediatrician and author, states that “the hardest thing about discipline is the guilt it can arouse. But there is no reason for guilt, for the most critical thing we can do for a child is to let her learn her own limits by setting them and helping her live up to them.”
Isn’t “setting limits” just a polite way of saying punishment?
Not really. Punishment involves making a child feel guilty, fearful or humiliated. It focuses on the child, not the behavior, and assumes that the child is “bad” and needs to be punished. The best you can expect when you punish a child is that she will stop the undesirable behavior out of the fear of being punished. The goal of discipline is to teach children to solve problems, make choices, learn to live with the consequences of their choices and, hopefully, achieve desired behaviors. Discipline focuses on the action and not the person – it is the behavior that is unacceptable, not the child. When you discipline a child, you hope that the child will understand your reasons for doing so and make better choices in the future.
Reprinted with the permission of BANANAS, Inc. © 2007 BANANAS
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