Last night I had the good fortune to attend a parenting workshop at a local private educational institution. The topic of the talk was “Setting Respectful Limits” and was led by Karla Kuester, a RIE Associate, two heuristic indicators of an event that is perfect for a Peaceful Parenting enthusiast such as myself. As our Little Lion is entering toddlerhood, I was eager to learn more about tools and techniques for establishing and enforcing boundaries that can help us and him.
The presenter’s website is www.karlakuester.com; I will reproduce the titles of her slides in order along with my annotations.
First some basics
A New Look at the Word Respect
Respectful behavior is based on observation. The roots of the word respect are “to look again”. This implies being present-oriented, focusing on what you see right in front of you, in the moment, rather than what you want it to be, what you hope for, expect, etc. Begin your interactions with your child by observing what is and you will start to find the basis for respect.
Noticing is Everything; The Start of the Plan
A child’s security is based on knowing that adults are in charge. This requires consistency in word and action on behalf of the adults. Observations lead to information, and information is the basis of planning. By creating trust in the adult, everyone can relax and and be their authentic selves.
The Goodness of Narration
Verbalizing what you see helps the child connect words to actions (in RIE, this is called “sportscasting”). For adults, it connects the mind to observations and restrains impulsive behavior. Narrating observed events links bodily sensations in the child to cognitive experience. Sportscasting is the key tool to changing your relationship with your child as it slows things down and helps everyone become more aware of the present.
Building Better Relationships
Relationships are not linear, they have meaningful ups and downs. The relationship you build with your child is the foundation for all their learning. It also connects the child to their future life in the world. Always keep in mind the long-term relationship consequences of your decisions and you’ll avoid the mistake of making decisions that are “good for now.”
The Adult’s Job: To Show the World to the Child
The parent’s job is to keep the child safe and acclimate them to society. Life is fun for parents and child when everybody follows the rules. Parents provide children with visibility and a sense of being understood. For children to stay safe, they must stick together with the parents. “You cannot care from a distance.”
The watchwords here are: Designation (what’s the parents’ role?), Availability (being present for the child’s needs), Proximity (being close enough to make an impact in the child’s well-being).
Adults help children learn how to take care of people and property.
Empowering the Captain of the Ship
The Captain steers the ship in a safe direction while maintaining respect and self-esteem with the crew. To do this, the Captain has to stay one step ahead of the crew and anticipate their needs and actions. In this way, the Captain can model for the crew problem-solving and executive functions which will be helpful for them later on in their own lives.
“Lean with a teen; squat with a tot”
It’s important to learn how to move to the child’s level, physically and emotionally, when interacting with them. Maintaining eye contact is a key part of showing respect. With small children, this often means squatting down or sitting on the floor; with teenagers, this often means leaning back and giving them some space to unload. Be present with the child where they are at and they will be able to feel seen and heard.
Can’t or Won’t?
It’s easy when dealing with children to confuse their resistance to a request as a “won’t” when it might actually be a “can’t”. Always check for developmental appropriateness of a request, such as:
- Prior experience with the request/task
- Level of alterness (sleepy, stressed, etc.)
- Hunger or motivation (no one is at their best when feeling lacking)
Some creative ways to set and maintain boundaries and ways to avoid saying “no”
The Function of Behavior
All behaviors are communication. This is true for both the parent and child. What we do communicates who we are, what we want or need, and what we stand for. The parent should strive to get in the habit of thinking about what information is being shared by the other person in what you observe in their behavior; also, what they are sharing about themselves in the way they act.
The Function of Boundaries
Boundaries create a safe space for functioning. Boundaries must be enforced to be effective in creating security through predictable order.
Giving Children Appropriate Choices
Offer children choices you consider acceptable, regardless of which one they choose. Avoid offering choice when none is available, or you would only accept one of the choices. Children learn to be cynical of adults who offer false choices and become uncooperative in response.
Taking the Phrase “OK?” Out of Your Vocabulary
A better alternative than ending a request with “OK?” is “Do you understand?” Asking “OK?” implies a choice for whether or not the child wants to comply, or signals a request for validation (ie, being unsure about one’s authority to make or enforce the request). Avoid power struggles over choices that don’t exist.
Don’t Offer Children ‘Big Person’ Jobs
Be consistent in enforcing rules and verbalizing why they exist and children will learn to follow them. Be clear and firm, not harsh; use a flat voice and expression and simple language, not impassioned speech.
Items for Adult Use
Some items should remain off limits to children. The child can look forward to growing up and getting an opportunity to use them when appropriate. You can establish early on the notion of property by establishing whose is whose.
If your child is out of control, don’t follow them there. If you expect them to change their behavior, you must do so as well.
Use Temporal Priming
Give children a sense of when an activity will come to an end. Give them an opportunity to think about what they’d like to do next, or instead.
Give Time Warnings
Establish time before a transition occurs, using a clock or timer. Let the child see you setting the timer, and then the timer determines when changes occur, rather than the adult. This also helps children understand the phenomenon of the passage of time, because for the child there is often confusion about the difference between five minutes and thirty minutes, for example.
Create an Activity Schedule
Create a visual sequence of the day, verbalize it and follow it. This creates a predictable rhythm to the day and helps them anticipate what comes next in their life.
“My Turn”/”Your Turn”
Instead of sharing, introduce the concept of taking turns. This creates a predictable cycle of action with a clear time frame for the child to anticipate. With very young children it can be a game initially, and later on it becomes a concept they can utilize when there is conflict over a limited resource.
Holding the Place for Turn Taking
An adult can “take a turn” for the child and model a wanted behavior when the child demonstrates they aren’t up for it. In this way the child can consider doing it themselves next time after they’ve processed the significance of the adult taking their turn for them.
“First ___, Then ___.” Statements
You can help children understand the priority of tasks before receiving something they prefer by showing them what comes first and then what follows. This is slightly different from “If ___, then ___.” because the conditionality of “if” implies a kind of role-playing or moral hoop to jump through, whereas “first” implies an existing natural order to the world they must comply with. This is an especially useful tool for dealing with multiple children and daily routines; by showing children who gets what in a consistent order, they can come to accept their place in “line” and have security that they will be cared for when it is their turn.
Focus On What You Want Your Child to Do, Not What You Want to Stop
When communicating with your child, focus on positive actions not negative actions. Often children do the last thing they heard, so if you say “Don’t X” they hear “X”. Also, asking for what you would like prevents guessing or the chance that they choose an alternative behavior you still find unacceptable.
“You get what you get, and you don’t get upset!”
Help children understand that they won’t always get what they want in life. It’s important to learn to accept situations where a lack of control over the outcome exists.
Never Underestimate the Power of Taking a Break
Model the ability to self-soothe for your children when a situation heats up between the two of you. Regain your calm and composure by informing the child that you intend to take a step back, catch your breath, have a glass of water, etc. before addressing the conflict again.
Catch Your Family ‘Doing Something Right’
Point out behaviors you like and identify the specific action you appreciated and why. It is far more motivating for people to be recognized for what they are doing well than to be reminded of their failures.
Consistency and Repetition: The Name of the Game
To be effective, boundaries must be enforced consistently by ALL caregivers in a child’s life. Allow no wiggle room or your efforts to enforce boundaries will go to waste.
Respect Takes Time
There are no shortcuts to building a respectful relationship.
“We say respect is ‘worthwhile.’ So isn’t it worth the little while it takes to be respectful of the children in our care?” ~Polly Elam, President of RIE
“You have all the time in the world if you start right now. Take a breath in, feel your feet on the ground, exhale and ‘carry on bravely.'” ~Kenneth James Kuester