13 July 2009

Learning Where The Limits Are

Everyone is born with the ability to set their own limits. Most of us have grown up with our parents and other social structures putting those limits into place for us when we are young. As we grew older, we slowly learned where limits should be placed. And as we moved out onto our own, whether it was going away to college, or moving into our own places, we were suddenly dropped into a situation where we had to establish our own limits. When I first moved out, I remember going and buying all the sugary cereal knowing that I could eat it any time and there was no one to tell me I couldn't anymore! I soon learned why my mom put restrictions on eating it.
There are many ways we stunt our children's exploration of limits when they are young. It is a widely held practice in our society. And we have lovingly developed it as a way to keep our children safe. We put our babies into barred cribs and playpens to keep them safe. We baby proof the house when they start to crawl around. We sterilize the bottles before putting milk into them. We place them into car seats when we get into the car. We toddler proof the house as they start to climb around. We put training wheels on their bikes so they don't fall. We put knee pads and helmets on them in case they do fall. As we have gotten wiser through the years we have put more and more safety precautions in place to keep our children from harm.
Somewhere though, we forgot that they need to learn to limit themselves. They need to learn why they need limits. They need to be able to explore things for themselves. We have gotten so good at protecting our children that there is a growing feeling among them that they need to escape. Many teenagers escape by drinking or doing drugs at parties or at a friend's house, and recent trends have shown that children are starting to do this at a younger age. So many have gotten hurt or hurt others in these situations, especially since they have found ways to escape from our watchful eyes. I wonder if their need to escape is a response to having so many limits placed on them that they feel they have nothing they are allowed to explore.
No one wants to see their child get hurt, but sometimes pain is a needed teacher. How many of us learned to use a pot holder because we burnt our hand on a hot pan? Exploring things as a child, under the watchful eye of their parents, life is not scary, and limits can be easily learned. 
Children learn to ride a bike without training wheels because they do not want to fall and skin their knee, not because they read it in a book. And if they "are not old enough" to learn to keep their balance, then maybe they should have a two wheeler yet. 
Children learn to not eat too much candy because their stomach gets upset by it... and this child learned that lesson at eighteen. My boys learned it at three. 
By letting children learn to set their own limits at a young age, maybe we can reverse the trend, or do away with it completely. By allowing our children to try things, under our watchful eyes, they can learn why to set limits while we are there to safeguard them. By allowing them the freedom to try things, perhaps less of them will need to find a way to escape...


Sugar said...

I'm the "bad" mom that never baby-proofed the house and I only make my kids put helmets on when we're on the busy streets. Every one of my children has touched a hot iron ONCE. I watched them all as they did it. Some people might think that's abusive, but you know what? They learned. If we put our kids in a bubble, we are stunting their growth and teaching them to live in fear.

Sparkle Chi said...

Exactly my point Sugar! I'll one up you.... we don't have helmets. LOL My kids have got fantastic balance, and common sense from a young age...and plenty of room to explore.