Establishing Appropriate Limits (page 2)
Understanding troublesome behavior does not mean accepting it. Adults are responsible for establishing the behavioral limits or boundaries that are necessary for the safety and healthy development of children in their care. This means that children should be prevented from (1) hurting themselves; (2) hurting others, either physically, psychologically, by teasing, or by infringing on others' rights; and (3) destroying property. If you think about it, these limits can encompass all the “rules” that typically govern early childhood programs. Confining your list of classroom rules to a minimum number that clearly relate to these essential limits has several advantages:
- The fewer the number of rules in place, the easier it is for children to learn those rules and the fewer occasions for children to transgress those rules.
- Fewer transgressions mean that adults can spend the time and energy they would have spent reprimanding children in more positive interactions with them.
- Fewer reprimands mean fewer assaults on children's self-concept and feelings of self-efficacy.
- Instead of teaching children to memorize and conform to a list of arbitrary prohibitions, adults will be teaching them the reasons for the rules.
- Helping children understand that rules safeguard the rights of everyone helps them move beyond blind obedience to acting out of a sense of justice and fairplay; in other words, to taking their part in a democratic rather than a totalitarian society.
Limits must be communicated to children in ways that they will understand and remember. Recall from the guidelines for direct guidance given in Chapter that, in addition to having few rules, it is most effective to state those rules succinctly and positively. Thus the three basic limits can be stated as follows:
- Be safe.
- Be kind to others.
- Take care of our room (or school).
Adults can teach the meaning of these concepts by noticing and appreciating examples of positive behaviors.
- “You're using both hands on the climber, Maria. That's a good way to keep yourself safe.”
- “It was kind of you to let Jeb have a turn on the tricycle, Eduardo.”
- “Thanks for picking up that paper, Kamiko. It makes our playground look really nice.”
Adults can also point out, calmly and nonjudgmentally, the times when children transgress these limits:
- “When you tip your chair back like that, Bosah, you could fall and hurt yourself. Be safe and keep all four chair legs on the floor.”
- “Pinching hurts. See? Ava's crying.”
- “I'll help you pick up the puzzle pieces from the floor, Jerome. If they get lost, we won't have those puzzles to play with. We all need to take care of our school.”
Adults must be realistic about how closely or how quickly they can expect children to comply with limits. A young toddler's version of “be kind” might include giving a favorite “blankie” to a crying playmate. But it might not preclude taking an exploratory nip on that playmate's arm, just to see the interesting reaction. Four-year-olds, eager to test their growing physical prowess, will probably need many reminders to “be safe,” particularly if their environment contains inappropriate hazards. Wise adults consider learning about limits to be a work in progress for young children, a goal toward which they constantly strive, though they may never reach it completely.
No matter how carefully you establish and enforce limits, there will be children who, for one or more of the reasons discussed earlier, will be unable to comply with them. Their challenging behaviors will require all your knowledge, skill, and tenacity. Remember that while your immediate goal may be to stop the undesirable behavior, your long-term goal is to help children reach their potential to be well-adjusted, self-directed, productive adults. This means there is no one-size-fits-all solution, no magic bullet that will work in every situation to eliminate a troublesome behavior.
© ______ 2009, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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