Monday, January 21, 2013

Creating Limits to Empower Children

Recently we did a parent workshop on limit setting with our infant and wobbler classroom parents. In preparation for the work shop, we (Melinda and Briana) discussed some basic questions: What are limits and why do we use them? What do they provide for us and the child? How do we come up with limits? How do the limits that we set empower children and meet the needs of our family? In the end, we decided to focus on the process of limit setting.
For us, the process is three steps:

1. Setting the Limit
2. The Zen State
3. Following Through and Following Up 

Throughout the workshop itself we built on the process, discussed scenarios, and had some amazing dialogue with our amazing parents. Below is a deeper look into some of the highlights of our workshop and where the conversation went.

 Setting the Limit
Coming up with the limits...
  • An evolution of what's important to/defines your family and the culture of your family.
  • Each child (and adult!) have their own unique needs so limits might vary.
  • Setting limits in infancy/toddlerhood helps set up expectations. It builds the process/culture of your family/school/community/etc.
  • Offer choices to your child when you can! Giving them ownership over the limit helps.
Anticipation is Participation...
  • Prepare both your child and yourself in advance when possible. It's hard but gives time for processing. How far in advance varies with each child's needs and abilities. 
  • Be direct and use language that is appropriate for your child's ability. Key phrases that they can recognize like “Kids who A, get to B” can be great for consistency.
To a preschooler who has hit their sister after she took a toy: “Wait! I won't let you hit her. (Pause) The thing about our family is that we keep everyone safe. I can tell you feel frustrated about your sister taking that toy. What might work instead?”
To a young infant who wants to crawl off their mat at naptime: “It's time to sleep. I can see that you want to get off your mat. I will help you to rest.”
To a toddler who won't brush their teeth: “Kids who brush their teeth get to read books. (pause) The thing I know about you is that you really love getting to rinse!”

The key ingredients of a good limit? Clear. Honest. Age appropriate. Helps the child feel seen and acknowledged.



The Zen State
Supporting divergent thinking and advocacy...
  • Your child might test your limit! They are working to figure out what works/doesn't work.
  • Allow your child time to process the limit and decide how they want to react.
  • Let your child own their emotions- this supports advocacy! Remaining calm helps reduce shame and builds your child's emotional intelligence.
Narrate, Narrate, Narrate...
  • Talking through what is happening helps calm both you and your child. Acknowledging the situation and how you both are feeling maintains the zen state and builds coping skills. 
  • Narration can be like an unstructured mantra that gives you a chance to be fully present, observe without shame, and take a breath.
  • While narrating, your tone is just as important, if not more, as the words you are saying.

To the preschooler: After giving them a chance to come up with their own plan, offer help as needed or talk through their chosen path. Remember to allow them to try out their own plans, even if you are sure they won't work.
To the young infant: Breathe deeply and force your adult thoughts out of your head. Focus on the child and being the calm you want them to be.
To the toddler: Remain present but give them a chance to initiate the next step. “When you're ready you can turn on the water. I can help you put the toothpaste on your blue toothbrush if you want!”

The key to the zen state? Narrating and remaining calm helps you as much as them!

Following Through
Hear them. See them. Notice them.
  • Acknowledge your child's needs and emotions. “It didn't work to take the toy from her. She's holding on to it tightly. You really wanted it! That's really frustrating.”
  • Be available for comfort but allow your child space to work through it on their own.
  • Keep the narration going even as you follow through (whether it worked or not). For example, “You remembered that kids who brush their teeth get to read books before bed! Which book will you choose?”
  • It's OK to take space!! You may need a minute to breathe before you can be calm and present with your child. If so, then do so! Take a sip of coffee, find a moment to breathe, take some space in another room. Taking care of yourself is essential.
Planning for next time...
  • At any age, you can plan for next time. Talk aloud with your child or think to yourself about what worked/didn't work. What could go differently next time? How can you set up yourself and your child for success? Preschoolers can often do this on their own. 
  • This may mean re-evaulating the limit itself. Was the limit you chose appropriate for your child, your family yourself, and the situation? Was it communicated clearly? Is it flexible?
To the preschooler: “Look! It worked. First you tried taking it from her but she held on tightly. Next you asked if you could use it when she was done. Now she's finished and you get a turn. That worked!”
To the infant: (Before the next nap) “Earlier you had a hard time falling asleep. Your body was so tired! After we finish your bottle it will be time to nap again.”
To the toddler: “You chose not to brush your teeth. It's important that your teeth are clean before bed so I can help you, but this means we won't have time for books before bed. Tomorrow night we can try again!”

The key ingredients to following through? Narrate what happened. Remind the child of the limit in your narration. Make a plan for next time and re-evaulate the limit.

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