It is even commonly believed that children don't just need parent-set limits, they actually crave limits. Whenever I hear that, I get a vision of Homer's Odysseus and his encounter with the Sirens. In order not to fall victim to the irresistible song of the Sirens, he orders his men to tie him up and not to let him go, no matter how hard he begs. Are people saying that our children are like this? That they will thank us for restraining them (literally or figuratively), for giving them no choice but to avoid temptation?
|This guy did thank his crew for keeping him tied up. (source)
I have a different theory, heavily based on 28 years of research as a human. It's based on the fact that I'm still the same person as I was as a child. I have the same feelings and thoughts now as I did then. I think kids are just like adults in terms of how they want to be treated. I think people, young and old, want to have ultimate control over their bodies and their lives. I don't think mentally healthy people want to be restrained. I could be wrong. Let me know, please.
I think children want to be informed and supported, but they want to be free to make choices. I don't think kids want to be told how many bites to eat or when they need to sleep or when they need to wear a jacket. I try not to impose my will on my children, or my perception of their limits.
Instead, I try to make options available, and let them decide for themselves. If I am worried they might be hungry, I put out some food. If I'm worried they might be tired, I make a warm, cozy place available for them to rest. If I'm worried that they might be cold, I make sure I have jackets handy.
Right now, I get annoyed when someone tells me what to do. I don't mind suggestions. I like options. I love freedom. I don't know many people who would disagree.
I still make choices that some people consider to be mistakes. But with each choice, I learn something. I learn about my own limits and boundaries, which are the most important ones for me. And I assume it's the same way for the smaller people I live with. Unless they tell me otherwise.
Also, before you ask: wouldn't you stop your kids from playing in the middle of the street? The answer to that question is: it depends on what street. There are some streets that are fine for playing in, as long as I am there. More broadly, yes, I do protect my kids from imminent dangers, like busy streets and poisons. If you want, we can argue over the definition of imminent.
One more thing: Nowhere in this post do I say all limits are bad or I have no limits or you shouldn't have any limits. Go back and read it again if you don't believe me.