When we think of setting limits in parenting, the first thing that comes to mind is the negative connotation that has fallen socially on the word “limit” and its derivatives: limitation, limited, and so on. This article will clean all the external emotions of the word and associate it from today with Freedom.
Limits never speak of being an obstacle or locking an individual into an idea. It talks about boundaries and that space that belongs to each individual or group of people and that not only helps us to respect others but also to respect and make our personal space respected.
Once this parameter is established, we can realize that limits are necessary, not only in parenting but also in the healthy development of any group of people of any age and any field.
Two fundamental factors for the limits to be effective are setting and enforcing them. It is only helpful to set limits with sustained accompaniment. Setting boundaries is not pleasant when the situation reaches a hostile point. It is always possible to do it.
Norms and limits in parenting
When we place limits on our children from an early age, these limits are usually given in a more conciliatory way. Another word associated with boundaries and with negative emotional charge is “authority.” We must also clean this word to make more helpful use, and we will do it in another article. We want to clarify that limits do not have much to do with authority. They have to do with Freedom and Respect.
To place healthy and practical limits, these have to be drawn from the natural consequences and not from the whims or fears of our wounded inner child. We have a guide to spot the difference. Once detected and healed, setting limits will be the most coherent and straightforward thing that has happened to you.
Practical exercise in understanding limits
In respectful parenting, the fundamental pillar is always to put yourself in the other’s shoes. It is based on empathy. That is, place ourselves at the same height as our children and do the exercise of feeling what they would experience, of being in the same place.
Today we bring an exercise that will change our perspective on how limits look, feel, and are needed and how they bring us a healthy coexistence.
Let’s play with the imagination. First, we need you to get into character:
You decided to spend this year backpacking from one country to another. You don’t know what to expect from this first meeting with your host. You have never met them in person.
You arrive in the town with all your luggage, with the typical exhaustion of a train journey of hours and a walk to find your destination. When you finally find the address and knock on the door, your host opens with a big smile, but you can tell he’s in trouble. He quickly explains that an emergency arose, and he was waiting for you to come out. He hands you the keys to his house, tells you you’re at home, and leaves. He doesn’t give you the opportunity to accompany him.
Please take some time to reflect on how you feel and what your next step would be.
What could you do while your host is away? What would you do while you wait?
BREATHE — IMAGINE — FEEL
- You enter the house, visualize the clearest corner to leave your things, and disturb as little as possible, you hang around the house a bit, but you always end up next to your things and entertain yourself with your things to pass the time.
- You enter the house, leave your things at the entrance, and since you have the keys, you decide to go out and see the surroundings and come back when you think there will be someone at home.
- You enter the house, leave your things and go straight to the kitchen. You decide to please your host by receiving him when he returns with a typical meal from your country, plus you are hungry from the trip.
What is behind each answer
- You placed limits within ignorance and uncertainty, which made you fall prey to the situation. Much of your freedom is paralyzed until the host returns. Counterintuitively, someone else has control, even though they told you you are at home with the best smiles and intentions. This scenario benefits the one who does not set limits.
- You decided not to belong to the group, to continue until you could adequately interact with someone individually. In the best scenario, you arrive a few minutes before your host and start over. On the other hand, in a not-so-nice scenario, your host returns to look for something quick to return, he had given you the only key, and you are not there. The host seems aggrieved and shifts the blame to you.
- You are at your peak of freedom, happy with the surprise that your host will get, and when he arrives, you find out that some of the ingredients you used, he was going to use for something that he promised to bring the next day, and it is too late to replace it. Although your intentions were good, you added something else to your host’s day of emergencies. You feel responsible for the discomfort.
Transferred to parenthood
The world of unschooling can be overwhelming at first, and one of the reasons is precisely not knowing how to set limits, confusing freedom with the absence of limits when in reality, it is the other way around.
Let’s switch roles. You are the host, and your son is the backpacker. Only now, you are the mother/father/tutor, and the child or adolescent is himself. In most cases, kids who have dropped out of the school usually start with option three, and if some punishments or rewards do not obey natural consequences, they turn to options 1 and 2.
The absence of limits could cause a lack of creativity due to fear of failure. Distance from the family so as not to disturb them. And three, in confusing behaviors, which are done with the best intentions, only the results are not harmonious with the family group. Does it sound familiar to you? Once this is known, everything is repairable. Limits are fundamental.
How to set boundaries in parenting
Following the same line as the backpacker, let’s play imagining again. You are again that person who travels and arrives at a stranger’s house, and your host receives you with a big smile, even though you notice he is in trouble. This time the situation has something different:
This person explains that they have an emergency, that everything is ready in your room, which is the one with a red and black duvet, and your bathroom is the yellow one on the right when you leave your room. He gives you a copy of the key and tells you that everyone has their own, that there is food already made in the kitchen, and that you can walk around the house except for the room in the back, which is blue and, above all things, you can’t touch the law books on the shelf. He says goodbye and leaves.
What could you do while your host is away? What would you do while you wait?
BREATHE —- IMAGINE — FEEL
You likely sit in your room, rest, bathe, eat, and feel completely free since you know the rules and how far you can go for the good of family life. We still can’t read minds, nor can your son or daughter.
Compared with situation 2, if your child understands the rules, he will be able to move freely and be authentic, without fear, as long as those limits are consistent and protect personal and group well-being.
Another important aspect when setting limits is that once established, the reason behind them is explained, but when reminded, they should be directed without needing further details. A long argument in a risky situation can lead to confusion and loss of the sense of limit.
As they demonstrate responsibility by taking specific actions, the boundaries will loosen as their purpose will be understood. Sometimes the limits will still exist, but we will no longer be responsible for enforcing them because it will not be necessary. Our children will understand and use them.
This does not imply that in the future, we will once again have the responsibility to enforce it, remember that the second important factor of the limit is implementing them.
Don’t be afraid to set limits again
When we repeat behaviors that we were told are part of the role of a mother or father and do not question them, we likely believe that it is a weakness to set limits again since it is a lack of authority. How many times did you listen to others or hear yourself say? “How many times do I have to repeat it to you? ”; the answer is: as many times as necessary, and it will also be done in the same way as the first time, calmly, in a conciliatory and firm manner. Click here to read about an exercise that avoids repeating behaviors without question.
An example of this can be seen in the field of cooking. When we start teaching our children to cook, a straightforward and typical rule is that they do not use sharp kitchen utensils. These are reserved for adults only. Over time, this rule is relaxed, allowing them to use them under adult supervision until they reach the point where they can handle the cookware without supervision.
However, at some point, they invite their friends over and, excited by the visit, begin to take the kitchen utensils as toys. In that case, it is necessary to take back the responsibility of setting limits and explain to them that their behavior was not responsible or safe for themselves or themselves. For this reason, “you will not be able to use the utensils again when there are visitors since you have shown that you cannot handle the situation with an additional variable.”
Over time, they may be able to use utensils with complete autonomy, but it is crucial ALWAYS to set limits. This is the way to accompany and care for our children.
Setting limits applies to children, adolescents, and adults, whether they are our children or not, as long as we are in a group with a common goal. This applies to a backpacker and host, at work, with friends, or in a sports team where you perform. In short, in every group of your life.
Setting limits and respecting the limits that others establish are essential to coexistence as long as they safeguard your safety and that of everyone. With this in mind, you can prepare your children to know how to act when faced with unfair rules that only benefit a particular group or person.
The key is to be consistent and live how we want the world to be.
I hope this walk through the limits has served you and knowing what to do lovingly and naturally.