Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Limit setting - 1 kids' moral development

Setting limits and boundaries is an important part of parenting . However the way we set limits can impact on the moral development of children and set off challenging behavior and the resistance of kids with difficulties.

In this post I share Alfie Kohn's insights on setting limits and the moral development of children.

In other posts I hope to share

1 how CPS collaborative problem solving = Plan B is effective at limit setting

2 how the traditional perspective of children – that they are born to test limits , feel secure because of the limits are myths, and are used to justify more limits and punishment

3 Limit setting should not be used to restrict kids but rather create structure that offers them more freedom.

' The question - Thomas Gordon , the author of P.E.T – Parent Effectiveness Training says is not whether limits and boundaries are necessary but the question is who sets them ? Is it parents unilaterally imposing limits on their children or are parents and kids working together to figure out what makes sense.?

The question then becomes what kinds of limits and boundaries are we talking about - how specific or behavioral should they be as opposed to broadly conceived guidelines that can inform a lot of our activities - a limit on not hurting other people , addressing the needs of others etc

Don't we want kids to derive limits and guidelines on how to act from the situation itself and what other people need ? If so, then our coming up with limits, and especially specific behavioral limits and imposing them on kids makes it less likely that kids will become moral people who say that the situation decrees a kind of a boundary for appropriate ways to act and I will be guided by that my whole life , not just internalized but it's about what's between me and the other I come across.

An example would be the different thinking a kid would have when faced with a bowl of cookies and would love to eat all of them because ' I am hungry and I love cookies '. When the parent imposes a limit – ' You can take only one cookie ' = I cannot take more because mom said I can have only one or else , or where the kid thinks ,' I would love to eat all the cookies but there are others kids around too and they are also hungry so I will make sure that everyone has cookies too.' When parents say ' you must share because I said so' and follow up with a patronizing pat on the head ' good sharing ', the wrong message gets internalized. I am sharing because mom says so and because I will get a verbal reward for sharing. ' AK interview

When we use consequences to reinforce our limits and moral behavior we end up promoting self interest at the expense of others.  The following incident that took place on the school playground proves the point well.  A teacher saw a kid kick a football which  hit a fellow teacher who then fell from the force of the ball and got injured. The kid ran off. When the other teacher confronted the kid about his moral responsibility to go and help the teacher – the kid responded that he ran away so that he would not be caught and be punished.  In a situation where there are no consequences or a discipline code , the kid would be careful not to hurt others , not because of what might be done to him= consequences  , but how his actions have consequences on others. And if he by mistake did injure the teacher , he would in an autonomous manner engage in the moral act of restitution and go and help the teacher and offer an apology

'So when we want to focus on our children's moral development we have to recast the ideas discussed in most parenting books that boundaries and limits are thought of as restrictions that adults impose on children. But shouldn't our goal be for children to refrain from doing certain things because they are wrong? The limits on kid's behavior , in other words , should be experienced as intrinsic to the situation. We want them to ask ' How will doing X make the other kid feel? ' and not- 'Am I allowed to do X ' or Will I get in trouble for doing X' - Unconditional Parenting

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