In the four years since I started my web site, I’ve written over three hundred articles. I have always tried to be as specific and descriptive as possible, because I am acutely aware how challenging it is to communicate Magda Gerber’s respectful care practices through the written word. To my amazement, many of you are understanding and successfully implementing these practices without ever seeing (or hearing) them demonstrated. My hat’s off to you!
But for others who prefer show and tell, I thought I’d offer a series of brief audio demonstrations via podcast. This first one is on a popular topic (at least here on this blog): setting limits.
I’ll be covering:
- Confidently setting limits
- Acknowledging feelings
- Honest consequences
I offer these examples of respectful limit setting and encourage you to find your own voice and words.
I’d love to hear your suggestions for future podcast topics, so please share!
Transcript of “Setting Limits with Respect – What it Sounds Like”
Hi. I’m Janet Lansbury, and I’m happy to be sharing some examples of respectful limit setting.
Now, my overall recommendations are to approach these situations directly and confidently, which may mean acting “as if”at first, but with practice, true confidence will soon follow, and this will begin to feel natural. I also recommend being open and willing to fully accept our child’s different point of view.
Generally, when parents have difficulties establishing boundaries with children, it’s because we’re not comfortable with our children’s emotional responses. We’d like to avoid them, of course, but that attitude will get us into trouble.
Now, are we ever going to feel entirely comfortable when our children are expressing displeasure? Not likely. Not likely, but we need to recognize this dynamic between us as not only normal and healthy, but also necessary for raising secure, resilient, self-confident, happy children.
And our confidence regarding setting limits doesn’t mean adopting a stern expression or making a face or an attitude. What I’m talking about is simply putting a period at the end of our sentences, feeling unthreatened, and in control. Matter of fact conviction.
If you take a close look at your tiny child, why wouldn’t you feel unthreatened and able to handle any situation that comes up with him or her with ease, right?
We also need to approach these situations with confidence in our children’s abilities to handle disappointment, frustration, disagreement, and anger. To flourish as we’d like them to, our children need to know that they have unflappable leaders who will keep them safe and accept their feelings, and in order to develop an honest and respectful parent-child relationship, we need to be able to express our personal boundaries with our kids. We’re part of this relationship. That’s very important to remember.
Let’s jump into some examples:
Let’s say our infant or toddler tries hitting or biting us. When we’ve stopped her in time by blocking her hit or catching her hands, holding her hands, we might say, “I won’t let you hit me. That hurts. I see you want to hit.” Then, if she continues, “You still feel like hitting. I can’t let you hurt me, so I’m going to hold your hands,” or if I’m holding her in my arms when she hits and continues hitting, “I’m going to put you down. I can’t let you hit me.”
If our child hits before we can stop her, we still under-react, and then we’re ready to prevent the next one if it comes. “I don’t want you to hit. Please be gentle.” Now, only use “please” if you can say it without actually pleading because pleading with children makes them feel like we’re the weak ones instead of the strong ones that they need.
If you sense this is a reaction to this … that their behavior is a reaction to a specific event, you might acknowledge, “You seem upset that I said no to having another cookie. You enjoyed that cookie. You really wanted another. I see how disappointed you are. I’m going to hold your hands and keep you safe until you can stop hitting. I know. I see you’re disappointed. I see you’re upset.”
When possible, you might offer an acceptable alternative like, “You can hit this pillow, but not me.” Now, remember, when learning our limits, children need show and tell. Talking isn’t enough, which doesn’t mean they don’t understand our words. It means they need more reassurance. They need follow-through. So don’t fall into the trap of believing you can say something like, “Don’t hit me,” and have your child obey you, and then you’re going to get angry when your child is saying basically, “No, I need more. I need more from you. What are you going to do if I keep doing it?”
Now, why use, “I won’t let you,” rather than, “We don’t hit,” or, “Hands aren’t for hitting,” or, “Don’t hit mommy,” et cetera? Children learn best when we engage with them directly. They learn through our relationship, so we’re not talking about some general rules with this mommy person over here somewhere. We’re talking you and me. This is important. This is intimate. This is in the moment. This is about us.
Here’s another example, something less obvious than hitting. Let’s say you allowed your child to play with something of yours, but now, she’s making a mess or doing something that you don’t want her to do. Now, first of all, it’s better to avoid these situations completely by creating a safe “yes” play space for our child where we don’t have to interrupt her natural inclination to explore. Making messes of things is what children, especially toddlers, are supposed to do. That’s the way they learn. They experiment. They explore.
Putting them in a situation where exploring something fully is going to get them into trouble with us is unfair. But it happens. So let’s say that happens. We might say something then like, “Okay. I’m going to stop you from removing more pan from the shelf. I know I was letting you play with those, but I don’t want them all out on the floor like that. Can you help me put those back? Hmm, it seems you want to still play with them. I understand. I made a mistake allowing you to use this when I really didn’t want you to. I’m sorry for the confusion. Okay. I’m going to have to take these, and put these pan back, and close the cabinet.”
Now, let’s touch briefly on consequences. Consequences aren’t helpful to children or to our relationship when they are just another word for punishments. For example, “You didn’t clean your toys up, so you’re not going to get dessert tonight.” To a child, that feels like we’re against them. It feels unfair. However, when consequences are an expression of our personal limits, our personal boundaries with our child, then they are helpful because they are informing our child about us, and our relationship, and what we’re willing to do.
Now, let’s find an example like your child is splashing in the bath. Splashing, splashing, splashing. Having fun, but now, the water is going on the floor, and you’re getting uncomfortable, so you’re sensing … It’s always good when setting limits to sense your discomfort, and then to not be afraid to share your feelings with your child. “I’m not comfortable with you splashing the water. You want to splash. I don’t want you to splash in the bath. I see you’re still splashing. Okay. If you can’t stop splashing, I’m going to need to help you get out of the tub.” Child is still splashing. “Okay. I’m going to help you get out of the tub. Here we go.”
Right there, we gave a consequence. The child had to get out of the tub because they were splashing. Similarly, if your child is having difficulties getting ready for bed, they don’t want to get their pajamas on, they’re running all around the house, running all around the house, so you might let this go on a bit, and then at some point, you might say, “It’s getting late, and if you can come in and get your PJs on right now, we’ll have time for a couple of books, and if you don’t, we may only have time for one or even maybe just a song tonight,” and then it’s okay to follow-through with those consequences because you don’t want to stay up all night. You’re tired. You have limits, so it’s okay to be ourselves with our children. I think that’s really important to know.
And what will happen is these interactions will feel natural. We don’t need to use countdowns. “Okay. When I count to three, do this.” We don’t need to use timers. We don’t need these things between us and our child. This is our relationship. It’s something that’s going to last us throughout their adult years. It doesn’t have to change. Our dynamic together doesn’t have to change. We’re always going to be saying, “This works for me, and this is what I can do. This is what I want you to do.” We’re always going to have those boundaries in our relationship, so this is a natural honest approach, and you can do this.
For a complete guide to respectful discipline, please check out my new book:
now available on Audio HERE!
(Photo by Greg Westfall on Flickr)