Does Psychology ‘Get’ Our Kids? – Setting Limits
Aha! Parenting has a post today about setting limits for your kids.
These type of posts have pretty bold conclusions:
Finally, you will find that she is more accepting of your limits. That’s because kids who test limits repeatedly are usually showing us they don’t feel safe. Children may love the idea of being all-powerful, but it also terrifies them. They need to know that we as parents will be in charge and keep them safe. Once they’re convinced of that, they no longer need to constantly test the limits to find out where our boundaries are.
The post actually walks you through what they believe is the best interaction with children who don’t want to accept limits we set for them:
Mom + Kids = Love is all about the love that grows out of our relationship with our kids. Sometimes arguments and playground fights feel like they get in the way of that love. We don’t express it well (or maybe even don’t feel it) and that makes the day hard on everyone. Do you think this method would work for you? What would you do?
Mommy: “Avery, you must be getting hungry. Its time to walk home and make some yummy peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. Would you like to walk or ride in the stroller?”
Avery: “No Mommy, I’m sitting on the swing.”
Mommy: [verbally empathize with her and acknowledge how she must be feeling] “Avery is having so much fun on the swing. You must want to stay and swing for a long time. [Setting the limit] But we need to fill our hungry bellies with a yummy lunch so we need to go home. Let’s race to the stroller!”
Avery: “No Mommy, I sit here on the swing.”
We’ve all been here, and seen this experience. Everything just escalates. We all get more frustrated, including the child that is just getting more hungry. The concept Aha! Parenting is trying to make is epathizing and limit stating. And, the mom has performed admirably.
Mommy: “Avery, you want to stay in the swing, all day, don’t you?” [Wish fulfillment]
Mommy: “I wish you could. But now it’s lunchtime and we have to go home. You have a choice, you can jump down and walk with me, or I will pick you up and you can ride in the stroller.” [Mom gives a choice, either of which is palatable to her. This helps Avery save face and gives her some control.]
If Avery doesn’t select one of these choices:
Mommy: “Ok, Sweetie, I see it’s too hard for you to leave the swing yourself. I will help you down and into the stroller.”
We’ve done this, and seen this. When Mom picks up Avery, she’s going to howl and scream. I don’t like the idea of wrestling her into the stroller and ignoring her crying. The whole concept of “don’t ‘reward’ her crying with attention” is terribly full of spite, and in my opinion disrespectful.
The concept from Aha! Parenting I’d like to share, and get your opinion on is: Empathic Limits.
That means we go ahead and insist on a limit that is non-negotiable to us — after all, the two year old should not be making all the decisions for the family. But we offer empathy for our child’s upset in response to our limit.
Avery: [Begins to howl as we pick her up from the swing.]
Mommy: “You are crying. You don’t want to leave the swing. You are so sad and mad that we have to leave. I’m sorry you can’t swing all day, but it is lunchtime. I will sit with you on this bench and hold you while you cry.”
No one likes to have a crying baby; but in fact, we aren’t failures because our daughter is crying. It also gives us an opportunity to console her and share empathy.
As she cries, if we can hold her and help her to feel safe (instead of strapping her into the stroller and pushing her home, sobbing), she may even begin to cry about other things — her new baby brother, or the way Daddy snapped at her when he was in a rush, or that big dog that barked at her this morning, or how much her knee hurt when she fell yesterday but she didn’t cry because she was with Grandma who told her what a brave big girl she was and big girls don’t cry. What a great opportunity to get all this off her chest! In fact, often kids “pick fights” by resisting our limits, exactly as Avery did with the swing, precisely to get the opportunity to cry like this. So holding our child while she cries is a tremendous gift.
If she is angry and twists away, we stay nearby and stay connected with our voice: “I’m right here. I won’t leave you alone with those big feelings.” We breathe deeply to stay calm. We ignore the curious looks from passersby.
The crying isn’t bad. If we empathize and reassure her, eventually she will feel comforted, and safe. When she begins to calm she will snuggle to us. And we can say:
“You were crying. You were sad. Now you feel better. Let’s go home and get those yummy sandwiches. Do you want a drink of water before you get in the stroller?”
The first time you do this, your child may cry for a long time. That is never a bad thing; she’s venting pent-up emotion. Or she may think that her crying will convince you to let her swing more. Obviously, empathizing with her feelings doesn’t mean you rescind a limit that is important to you.
The hope is that after a couple of these experiences, your child will understand that the limits are firm, but she will also know that you love her, and that you want her to be happy because of the empathy you’ve shown her.
Do you think it will work?