Beyond “Setting Limits” – Part 3 – Creating Safety

by Scott Noelle

Tragically, one of the most common justifications for corporal punishment is that it can instill a fear of unseen dangers. Today, let’s explore how safe behavior patterns can be established — without imposing arbitrary limits and “consequences” — by helping children become aware of hidden dangers.

Consider the dreaded toddler running into the street scenario. Conventional wisdom says this must be explicitly forbidden, and when the rule is broken, the toddler should be punished to deter repeat infractions.

We created this danger by inventing streets and cars to remove the natural limits on speed of travel, and now we’re supposed to restore safety by limiting and threatening our children?!

Instead, let’s first acknowledge the remaining natural limits:

  1. The toddler’s limited ability to understand the man-made danger.
  2. The parent’s limited ability to protect the child at all times.

Both of these limits can be overcome with a better understanding of children’s natural inclinations:

Children are innately driven to explore the world, but only when they feel safe, which is largely based on observing their elders’ behavioral cues. When children don’t feel safe, they naturally limit themselves.

When parents and others casually cross the street, the implicit message is “no danger here.”

To make sure your child gets the right message, give obvious behavioral cues like stopping completely before crossing, looking carefully for unseen dangers, and thinking out loud: “Do I see or hear any cars? Can they see me?”

If you start giving these cues during the in-arms stage of development, your children will internalize them before running into the street is even possible!*

*NOTE: It’s never too late to confer protective behaviors and awareness through cueing, but if your child has already internalized misleading cues, you may need to use additional (nonviolent) protective measures until your child internalizes your new cues.

The Beyond “Setting Limits” series:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Originally published on 2015-02-02
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