Monday, February 12, 2018

Setting Limits with Confidence

What are limits? 
When talking about setting limits for young children, it's good to know what limits are to begin with. In short, they are rules we set that help us establish appropriate boundaries for children depending on their age, developmental level and other factors. Limits are important, helping a child feel safe and secure in their environment and their relationships with the caregivers in their life.

Types of Limits
Always (Red light) Limits - Always true, regarding safety
Sometimes (Yellow light) Limits - Situational, more flexible, time-based
Rare (Green light) Limits - special occasion, rarely happen, based on own energy-level
Why is setting age-appropriate limits important?
Boundaries are comforting and help a child know what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t. It also helps a child feel free when they know what is expected of them, since it relieves them from the burden of making choices that they might not be ready for. Toddlers want us to be in charge even when it doesn't seem like it. When toddlers are given too much freedom without consistent boundaries, it can lead to future destructive behaviors such as inflicting damage on themselves or others as an unconscious call for more boundaries. 

Why do toddlers push or test limits?
Children are emotional and are learning impulse control so they need to be given boundaries that will keep them safe and effective discipline that teaches them to have respect for themselves, others and their surroundings. They are learning to assert their will and personality. Testing is a positive sign of the trust children have developed in us to listen to them and do things with them, instead of for them or to them. Some of the most common reasons children push limits is because their needs aren’t being met. They could be overly tired, hungry, stressed out or be over or under stimulated. Children also push limits when they are trying to understand or clarify something related to them, like our expectations for them. Sometimes an expectation we set might be clear to us, but confusing to the child. It is important to set simple expectations that are easy for a child to understand and don't require much explanation. Another reason why toddlers push limits is to get our attention, especially if they feel ignored. As teachers, showing a genuine interest in each child, and demonstrating patience and respect with each interaction is vital for children to feel that they are loved and important people. 

So, how do we react to limit pushing behaviors?

First, before we react, we need to step back and think. It's so easy to react out of an emotion but our knowledge of the child's development should be in the forefront of our minds before we say or do anything.

Identify our expectations.  
Are they age appropriate? Are we perceiving a child’s normal behavior as a problem? If so, how do we set realistic expectations? It's a good sign if a child expresses demands and desires because it shows that he or she is secure. Insecure children are afraid to demand. All emotions are normal and should be accepted, even the most uncomfortable ones like anger, sadness, confusion or disappointment. Maintain a neutral, even, “all feelings allowed” attitude. If we accept their feelings, they will too. Children look up to us for everything and notice everything we do. There's almost nothing we can hide, including our feelings. If we get easily frustrated at a child's emotions then we lose stability as their leader and romodel.

Re-Frame our Perspective.  
If we re-frame our outlook and change our perspective, we can see a child's age-appropriate behavior, as normal, instead of problematic.

Helpful words to tell ourselves: 
This isn’t a problem, it’s an opportunity.
This is just what is happening right now. It’s part of the process of growth and learning.
Lets find a way to do this together.

Children look to us to be a confident leader. That means not wavering back and forth between what we allow and what we don't. We need to set consistent limits. Ambivalence can be detected easily by children and they will test the limits we set repeatedly if we sound like we are unsure of them. Keep it simple and don’t obsess over a child’s behavior by making it bigger than it needs to be. Children learn best through natural consequences and short explanations.

Setting Appropriate Limits

Here are a few guidelines to help you along the path with setting limits with confidence!
  • Stay calm and don’t show strong emotions. That can draw attention to something minor and make it bigger than it needs to be
  • Directly and concisely address the behavior we see as problematic
  • When a limit needs to be set respond immediately or it’s too late. Toddlers live in the moment.
  • Acknowledge the child’s wants and feelings first. When a child feels understood he or she senses empathy behind our limits and corrections.
  • Only say what is true. Don’t just assume you know what the child wants or needs. Sometimes it's better to wait and see rather than react prematurely and not get the full picture of what is going on


Janet Lansbury's article "The Real Reasons Toddlers Push Limits" posted Oct. 23rd, 2013 on

Book "No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame"- Janet Lansbury, Chap. 1: The key to healthy and effective discipline is our attitude; Chap. 2: Talking to Toddlers; Chap. 5: A Toddler's need for boundaries

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