Sunday, 10 February 2013

setting limits

Setting limits is not my favourite part of being a preschool teacher or a mother - yet I have learned that it is an important part of both roles.

I remember my dad telling me when I was younger that he had a lot of freedom as a child, and that he wished that he had had more limits. I came to understand that limits are needed to enable everyone to feel secure - like having a safety net. Without limits it can imagine it must feel like being in space - nothing to push against, just floating. My parents had PLENTY of limits for my sister and I when we were small - and yes, at times I found that VERY annoying, but I know they set the limits because they loved us, because they wanted to keep us safe - and also to allow us to be children...

As adults we have more life experience, we have learned, and hopefully understood, many of the social codes. Children are learning about emotions, about the world, about everything and therefore setting appropriate limits is necessary. Necessary so that all that learning does not feel overwhelming, necessary so that the child feels safe, necessary so the child feels seen and heard.

I see limits not as a certain shape - its not like we should put children in boxes, having the same expectations of each child. I see limits more of a Barbapapa sort of shape - it is flexible and changing to meet the needs of each child, yet remains the same size. Of course the size will expand as the child' capabilities and understandings expand, just as young fish leave the safety of a coral reef to seek adventure in the ocean. In the beginning the reef offers enough adventures within relative safety where skills can be learned - just as limits can offer children the relative safety to play and learn before having to encounter the vast adult world...

Of course children do not always like limits - in fact sometimes limits can feel like a battleground - and that is why the Barbapapa-shape limits is so important - to learn to pick your battles. Sticking to limits just for the sake of it is not really that meaningful if it has no benefits to the child or children involved. BUT sometimes a tantrum is unavoidable in establishing a limit - and that can feel exhausting - as they need to be set firmly but with tenderness - and that can be tricky sometimes when there is a child screaming and kicking because they refuse to walk back to preschool after an excursion to the park. It is not acceptable for me to leave the child there, or to drag the child along who refuses to use their legs - the success of excursions relies on the fact that the children follow the rules, therefore establishing limits of behaviour in other situations paves the way for more play and fun.

Its a process. Its not something that happens overnight (even though it would be nice if it was!) And the children NEED to test and test and test to be able to feel the stability of the limits. Once they know where the limits are they can get on with playing, discovering and interacting with the world around them.

Setting limits about how children treat others gives the children the knowledge about how others should treat them. A child learns that it is not acceptable to hit others when angry, jealous or wanting something anymore than it is for others to do the same to them... it is a process of learning about emotions and how they are suitably expressed and how energy can be positively channelled (whether or not the energy is positive or negative).
sky's the limit - maybe great for imaginations - but children need limits to feel safe and seen.

Setting limits does not mean time-outs - BUT it does mean being consequent, being aware of exactly of what you are saying - not asking questions when you're actually expecting them to do something e.g
"Do you want to play outside?" when you mean "Now we are going to play outside" also means that if you say there will be a consequence it has to be something you are capable of doing...
"...if you don't come now then you will not be able to come on an excursion again" - is that feasible? Is there an opportunity to leave the child with another group? Or is it just an empty threat? What are the benefits - is the benefit just a temporary one that gets you back to the preschool or a longer lasting one?
My usual phrase when children do not want to come is "Do you want me to help you to come or do you want to come by yourself?" - it allows the child to make an option, it is giving the child some power in the situation at the same time as achieving the desired outcome (I usually have a little chat about trust too once we are on our way - a reminder to the WHOLE group that we need to trust each other to be able to go on excursions).

Setting limits means being aware of each child, of knowing how to support each child so that more time can be spent exploring and playing and less time is spent testing the limits.

1 comment:

  1. Setting limits is definitely one of the hardest parts of being a parent! I had a ton of limits growing up and my husband had none. Sometimes we have a hard time finding middle ground but luckily we communicate very well!
    I also agree that you have to be aware of each child. My two girls are exact opposites and I definitely have to think about that when I set the limits!