When expecting our first child, we make certain basic preparations. We read parenting books, obtain a crib, stroller, car seat, high chair, layette. If both parents hold jobs, childcare arrangements must be made; new living arrangements, perhaps; a bigger car…
Having children forces us to reconsider and rethink everyday matters that we take for granted, as it becomes necessary to create a safe environment. We need to put covers in electrical outlets; locks on drawers and cabinets; keep dangerous objects (chords, sharps, glass…) out of reach; cleaning supplies, medications, and other hazardous materials locked away. We constantly scan for objects a little one might choke on; enclose areas that might be harmful; gate the stairways…
In the beginning, our main concern is to keep these vulnerable little folk safe and cared for in a way that babies are incapable of doing for themselves. Paying close attention to details involving basic safety becomes second nature. We become disciplined in remaining vigilant.
Even as babies become mobile, they are not ready to learn what is and is not okay to get into. Punishment is pointless- a slap does not teach a baby not to do something. She feels only the pain, coming from the one she looks to for safety and comfort.
Babies and toddlers are curious and get into everything. We must eliminate temptations—put knick-knacks up; video equipment, and stereos out of reach. When an active baby or young toddler approaches danger, the best intervention is to remove the child from the area while calming telling him no, and distracting him with something appropriate. That is all that is needed at this age.
As their world expands, we begin to teach young children how to avoid dangerous situations themselves. This involves setting limits, creating boundaries- teaching discipline.
Discipline does not necessarily mean punishment. It can be characterized as a rule or set of rules governing conduct, involving self-control, will power, and consequence. It provides clarity and stability and intention and safety, which are necessary for the pursuit and fulfillment of our highest potential. Without discipline, our world is chaos and we become so burdened by confusion and distraction that it becomes difficult to follow any path, let alone to create and pursue meaningful life goals.
Raising well behaved and successful kids are hard work that takes the better part of twenty years of vigilance and consistent guidance. We must learn how to mold their behavior in a way that is effective in teaching them to successfully cope in this world and lays the groundwork for positive learning in all areas of their lives. Being clear and consistent about expectations and consequences regarding behavior eliminates much of the ambiguity that can interfere with having a fully satisfying life.
- If you destroy that in anger, you will have to use your allowance to replace it.
- If you’re not careful with your library books, the librarian won’t let you borrow more.
- If you are mean to your friends, they won’t want to be your friends anymore.
- If you don’t do your homework, you’ll get behind and it will be harder to learn the material.
- If you spend all of your money on candy, it will take longer to save for that toy you want.
Over the years I have noticed a definite shift in the current approach to parenting. So many parents are more concerned with being a child’s friend than being the one who enforces (self) discipline.
In more extreme cases, there is no attempt to correct inappropriate behavior. These parents believe that it is best to allow kids to fully express themselves in the way that the child sees fit, and that by interfering with his actions, they are somehow limiting the capacity for him to be who he is.
As a result, these kids tend to walk all over their parents, becoming the literal ruler of the home-(”You can’t tell me what to do-I’ll come when I’m good and ready”). These children may be inclined to show little consideration for the rights and property of others, steamrolling their way through public venues and other people’s homes. Meanwhile, the parents are helpless to intervene, if not oblivious to the upheaval their kids are creating.
At the other end of the continuum is the overprotective, controlling parent who doesn’t let their child out of their sight, limits activities for fear of injury to the child, demands perfection in every endeavor, or constantly steps in on the child’s behalf, thereby not allowing him a chance to work things out for himself or to learn from his mistakes.
Neither one of these approaches is fair to the child.
Kids want to be given guidelines and to know what to expect. Toddlers begin to understand the meaning of no; indeed, it is one of their first words! And everyone has observed a little one mischievously, or defiantly look the parent or caregiver in the eye and proceed to do the very thing he has been cautioned not to do.
When creating rules and boundaries for young toddlers and preschoolers, remember that the bottom line is Safety. Little kids can make sense of this.
- Biting, hitting, kicking, pinching, pushing and throwing things at people hurt. It’s never okay to hurt someone.
- Keep your toys picked up so no one trips on them and gets hurt.
- Matches and lighters can burn you and start fires. They are never for playing with.
- Sharp things cut people. Knives and scissors are not for children unless a grown-up says it’s okay and is paying attention.
- Don’t go near the pool/pond/river without a grown-up: children need supervision near water because it’s not safe.
- Jumping on the furniture is dangerous- it’s not safe to be wild in the house because there just isn’t enough room- you might get hurt or break something.
Setting limits is good for everyone. A child who has no restrictions lives in pandemonium; with clear limits, he knows where he stands. Being inconsistent confuses him and makes him try harder to get away with everything that he can. Children will test the limits we set, but if we remain consistent, then there is no need for a huge struggle. You both know what the boundaries are, and if they are significantly crossed, there are consequences. It’s just the way things are.