3yo limits and learning

I'm having trouble finding balance. My oldest is 3 and we lifted limitations about 3 or so weeks ago. Complete anarchy took over and it was more stressful than my husband and I can handle.
We allowed food in the living room; food was constantly thrown over the floor, smeared on couches and walls. We stopped making her clean up so she stopped helping. She has full blown screaming tantrums anytime we need to leave the house. Once she realized she could eat anything, she ate onl...y candy for a week straight. We couldn't continue this way and put limits back. We rent so can't have a free for all on our floors and walls. We just eradicated ants by my cleaning alone and there's no way I can enjoy my children and clean every crevice my toddler finds to put food in unless I stop sleeping

Hi, S! I remember when you posted a couple weeks ago – so you decided to go back to limits and “start over”? Sometimes that's easier when you've made the mistake of lifting all the limits at once. It does tend to create chaos when kids are only used to external controls on their behavior – it takes time for them to learn what to do without them.

Unschooling isn't so much about “setting/maintaining” boundaries with kids as it is about communicating and helping them explore. Boundaries exist already! There are the laws of physics, the very real limits on your time and energy, finances... so very many limits in life! One of the things that we can do, as parents, is help our kids move through a world of limits without feeling... strangulated by them, as it were. Limits don't have to be end points, they can be chances to make decisions and solve problems. That's a big part of the freedom unschooling offers. It's the freedom to be thoughtful as a parent, rather than obstreperous.

So it can help to think in terms of articulating limits and helping kids negotiate them. For example, of course you don't want food rubbed into your carpets and upholstery! But young children are very tactile, they learn a whooooooooole lot through touching, feeling, and even doing things like squishing and grinding. They're wired to process exactly that kind of information. So it's a good idea to offer your 3yo lots of ways to play like that, now that you know it's an interest. Finger painting, for instance, maybe with other things mixed into the paints for fun. And yes, by all means do it someplace like the kitchen that can be cleaned up easily – that's a good example of articulating a limit: let's keep the mess in the kitchen. Unschooling doesn't mean you never say no ;) It means thinking through your reasoning and finding options.

A three year old isn't equipped to negotiate the whole world on their own – and they don't really want to. They want to feel like they're capable and have a sense of personal power, though. They want to be able to make choices about things that are interesting or important to them. And as you've seen, they don't really have much in the way of complex reasoning ability yet! Their understanding of the world is still very surface level and direct. That's why they have parents ;)

Keep in mind that any kind of limit on a wanted thing – whether it's a real limit or something you “set” - is going to make that thing even more valuable. That's natural and even good to an extent. Think about eating the first strawberries of spring, for instance, or some holiday food that you can't really get any other time of year – there's a kind of specialness. And when that special thing is also framed in terms of good-vs-bad it can be a guilty pleasure. Again, that's not to say limits are bad, just that they're real things with real consequences. One of the reasons unschoolers try to avoid setting extra limits is exactly because of those consequences.

In the short run, settle back into life with the limits that previously made sense to you. Think about what seems to work and what it means to “work” - what's working? Is it really working or are you arguing a lot with a 3yo? Is your kid trying to explore something and your “boundaries” are standing in the way? Can you modify those boundaries? Maybe they're not really boundaries, just expectations you have that may or may not be realistic. Expectations are something you can change. Maybe there's a boundary that's not what you think it is – like food in the living room. If you add a table, and keep the food on the table, you might be able to achieve your goals in a different way. Limits, boundaries, aren't end points, remember, they're chances to problem solve.

No comments:

Post a Comment