Of course there are limits!
Know your limits and teach your kid limits
Writing about limits?
“Should I really write about setting rules and limits?”, I asked myself. I am fed up with all this parenting advice telling me exactly when and how to set limits and how I would damage my child’s psycho by enforcing a rule without the proper therapeutical words (I recently found this article and my husband and I needed quite a while to figure out whether we it made us feel like crying or laughing. We ended up laughing tears. http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/positive-discipline/How-to-set-Empathic-Limits).
To me personally, setting limits comes quite naturally. So my intention to start a blog to encourage parents to not helicopter, or over-parent, to let children play instead of training them and let them grow with reasonable freedom somehow seemed not to go together with advice about how to set limits. However, as a professional social worker, as well as mother, I have seen many young parents who are not setting limits. I don’t know if it was like that, when I was a child. But I do know that there can be very annoying families out there, who seem to let their kids do anything. Seriously, who hasn’t been annoyed by mothers, who sit in a café and chat without interfering once, while their kids don’t just play but run around the café screaming, walk with dirty shoes on chairs and benches and off course right in front of the waiter’s feet so he almost drops something?
Just a couple weeks ago my first grader cried at night, about a child hitting her in the face with a stick on purpose and laughing about it. When I saw the mother the next morning, I kindly told her. Not accusingly. Just letting her know. And her answer was: “I am sorry, but there is nothing I can do. He will not listen to me anyways. He was like that in kindergarten, too.” And then my kids both tell me how annoyed they are about other children who are misbehaving and their parents are right next to them and totally ignore this. So I wondered, why do so many parents not set limits?
Raising a “free” child
I have seen parents, who really want to raise a “free” child and are afraid of being too authorial. Some of them just did not really care and reflect much about their parenting and seemed to be too lazy to set rules. And many other parents I met, cared very much about being a good parent. They even read all these parenting books, or articles, or watched super nannies on TV. And with all this advice somehow they became very insecure about what to do and were afraid to hurt their child’s feelings or somehow damaging them for life by setting limits.
Well, knowing about those parents and reading articles like this one http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/positive-discipline/How-to-set-Empathic-Limits made me write about my view on setting limits. I hope it is inspiring to some people. I do not see it as the perfect parenting advice. I don’t think there is such a thing. Everyone has to find out what’s right for their family. It is meant as food for thoughts and to remind parents, why we set limits. Hopefully, remembering why, will help us, the next time some article like the one I mentioned above is making us feel guilty or unsecure.
Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand
Some people confuse raising a free child, with not setting limits. A parent who allows free play and exploring and does not keep the child under constant supervision still needs to teach rules and limits.
Good parenting has to combine both: rules and limits as well as freedom. Personally I believe that only when my children know the rules and limits, I can give them the freedom to explore on their own. I want my children to learn, that freedom always comes with certain responsibilities.
Of course there are limits!
It would be naive to believe that there are no limits. We all live within limits – and that’s ok. If we want to stay physically healthy, we need to respect our body’s limits. If we want to stay mentally healthy, we all need to be able to say no whenever someone is crossing a line or pushing our limits to far.
For our wellbeing it is essential that we are aware of our needs and that we can voice them. If we don’t tell other people about our needs and our limits, they will be annoying or even hurting us without even knowing. And if others do not tell us their limits, we will be crossing their lines – even if we don’t intent to. We need to teach our children that we all have the same dignity and we all are worthy of love and wellbeing. We teach them by standing up for our own needs and by respecting our children’s needs.
Why is it so hard to set limits?
We try to avoid conflicts
Saying “no” to a child can make the child upset or angry – especially if they haven’t learned yet that there are limits. Most children will show us when they are upset or angry. Many will cry or scream, “throw a fit” or maybe behave aggressive.
It seems to me like many people in our modern society, especially women, try to avoid conflicts at all costs. Somehow conflicts and all forms of „aggression“ seem to have become socially unacceptable. Sometimes it appears like all feelings except for happiness are not accepted in our society.
Many „family dramas“ I have watched over the time, were caused because the parents did not take the responsibility to say no. I have watched parents give in to their kids, even when they were really annoyed or embarrassed by their behavior and also when their child disturbed or even hurt others. These parents did not step up and set limits – and I wondered why. Deliberately observing such parents for quite some years now, two reasons stuck out to me (There are probably more):
- Some parents have a very hard time seeing their own kid upset. They want them to be happy. They cannot stand to see their child cry. They feel guilty when their child is sad or in whatever way unhappy. So they allow everything because they believe it makes the child happy and they do not want to upset the child.
- Some parents have not learned how to stand up for their own needs. Maybe they were raised in a family that did not allow them to have their own opinion. Maybe they did not learn, that their own feelings and needs are important, too and that it is ok to voice them.
We need certain conflicts to maintain healthy relationships.
Not setting limits is not good for our relationship with the child: If we don’t set limits in time, there comes a point, when our patience has been pushed so much, that we just cannot take it anymore. We get stressed and really annoyed and at some point so angry, that we explode. And then we “loose it”. Later we feel bad about it and try to make it up to our children by not saying “no” again and the vicious circle starts all over.
Two types of limits we really need to teach