Struggling to find the boundaries between what is too strict and what is too lenient is one of the eternal questions – Ed Sprunger has lots of advice on this front too. For starters, it’s not helpful to think of children liking limits, rather it’s more accurate to think of limits as a kind of guard rail that serves as a regulator and a protector. Here’s a question and response I’ve heard many times: “How many times shall we play Aunt Rhody today, 4 or 8?” “Zero!” comes the response. Here’s what Sprunger has to say about this verbal sparring: “When children respond in these kinds of ways, deep down, they’re not testing limits to upset us; they’re testing the limits to see if we’re really reliable and dependable. They want to know if they can trust what we say. They don’t necessarily want the limit to change. It’s a bit like when you close your front door, then turn the knob to check and see if it’s truly locked.” [Helping Parents Practice]
For me it boils down to this: if I strive to make my expectations predictable and clear – if I demonstrate what I want, and have systems in place for the repetitions it takes to achieve it, then I am reliable. It’s not unusual for a new student to exclaim “I didn’t do that” when I am trying fix some kind of behavior. After a while, though, we don’t have those struggles if I make my requests really transparent – and also because it becomes clear that I don’t pretend to hear something when I don’t or “lie”. It’s a tricky balance, no doubt about it, but it is also the nuts and bolts of raising children to become noble adults.