I like the idea of principles rather than rules or limits. There are important goals with small children--namely to keep them safe and healthy. I think I do better to focus on the principle of safety rather than the unyeilding rules that are sometimes constructed to carry it out (like you must always hold hands in the street).
I see limit-setting as "No, you may not do that." "No, get away from that." "No, do this right now or else." "No, I will not change my mind about it." "Don't talk that!" For me, there is no choice in limit-setting. It's final.
But I have seen, as I read this thread, that it isn't black and white. I liked Sledg's comments.
We have always had very few limits.
My dd was a baby in a tiny, tiny attic apartment. I didn't impose limits and she didn't test. For example, I never re-directed her if she was heading for the computer cords. She always seemed to change direction herself. I never anticipated the worst, projecting my fears on her. So she couldn't respond to my fears by testing. Does that make sense? We had a dangerous stairwell in the building. I would get queesy every time, just looking down that stairwell. The bars on the rail were very widely spaced. I never gave dd the opportunity to get near; every time we left the house I had her secure before even opening the door. But a couple of times daddy let her toddle out there. I would freak! On him. But each time I went out there to gather her up she was sticking very close to the wall farthest from the stairwell. So I learned to trust that children have a good sense of danger when it hasn't been altered by the fear, facial expressions, projections, words of the parent.
I know many of you will say that this is my dd's personality. I'm not so sure.
We still don't have many limits.
Bedtime is 9, unless dd is very obviously not sleepy. In other words, nobody is forced to sleep (impossible). And she is not forced to stay in her bedroom. Because of this, she usually asks to go to bed by 9:15.
Requests must be made in an audible, clear voice. I simply can't understand it, if not. No other comment is made besides "I don't understand."
Unless I feel pressured by other people, pleases and thank yous come naturally when dd genuinely feels like saying it. She always does, except when distracted. Hellos and goodbyes are coming along nicely. We have always said these things to her, since she was born. We have never forcefully taken things from her hands. We ask for everything first. Dh and I always use these words between ourselves. This is where the power of modeling really works.
No hurting living things. This includes ants, spiders, mosquitoes. Since she doesn't see us doing those things, she doesn't seem to want to either. But we did have major problems with the cat when she was 2, and I didn't handle it very well.
Food at the table. Nobody in this house eats anywhere but at the table. There is no forcing because there is no resistance. It's been like this since she began to eat solids. Lately, though, she's been asking if a banana or cheese would fall on the floor if she at it in the music room. She's so careful that I have been allowing her on occasion to eat something like that in the music room.
One of my good friends believes in not setting limits in order not to stifle her son's creativity.
Pure poppycockle and lazy parenting! If you have a son who "needs" to express creativity in that way, keep him away from other peoples' homes! Have playdates at a gym or a playground.
In fact, I have become a big believer in the "power of modelling".
I'm also a huge believer in this. I've talked about it here several times.
So.... how would you handle that? What limits, or no limits do you put on that? I think its in the kindness and respect category, but a 21 mo old can't understand respect really, its such an abstract thing.
I would have left.
A 21 month-old does understand respect if he/she has received it all along. I think the parents may be laughing at the growling. How does the girl get the message that it's an inappropriate social behavior if, in private, the parents act like it's cute and funny? I think there are a lot of lessons to teach about that growling (This may scare people. It's not great when you do it someone's face. It's annoying. It's for mirrors only.) that a 21 month-old would understand.
I would have removed my child from your child's surroundings. If my she kicked and screamed about it I would have taken her to sit her in front of a mirror, or I would have offered an alternative expression or game to play with your dd.
But although all of these things need to be taught, it's my belief that a child does not need to be punished or even necessarily experience "natural" consequences when they make mistakes (though sometimes they do experience consequences, which can help them learn).
The other day I pushed my dd to the limit by asking her to wait for something longer than any 4 year-old should have to wait. In the end, she slapped me hard on the arm. I took her hand and removed her from the area of confrontation. In doing so, I accidentally stepped on her toe. I didn't realize it. She was crying. When we left the room, she got it out that I had stepped on her toe. I was pretty hurt and pissed that she had slapped like me that. I didn't want to console her, at all! But I rubbed her toe, kissed it and said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to step on your toe." And kissed it a few more times. She stopped crying. I told her that she had hurt me when she slapped me. That she shouldn't slap me when she gets angry but that we should find a better way. I took her back to the previous room and let her do what she had been waiting to do. No punishment for slapping. No, "Now you can't play your game because you slapped me." I left the room saying I was going to go rub my hurt arm or something like that. She played her game for a few minutes, then came to me and said "I'm sorry me." And I accepted the apology. No nagging again, no more mention of the incident. The consequence was that she was removed the situation causing stress and mommy no longer wanted to be around her. The lesson was that even though I was very upset with her, I was still able to sympathize with her and soothe her pain.
One of the examples I read at the pro-limit-setting site was of a girl who continues to ask for things at the store. The father says, "You can look but not buy. If you ask again we'll leave" or something like that. So the guy continues to shop, placing this "no asking" limit on the dd. How cruel is that? Gee, if you don't want to hear anymore asking, just leave the store! Or do the same thing yourself! That is, don't buy anything for yourself either.
If dd and I go shopping and I don't have enough money, we agree beforehand that we're going to look not buy. I tell this to dd and she says, "Ok, maman, when I ask for something you just say, 'You can't have that. We don't have any money today.'" And guess what? I don't buy anything for myself either! But when we're out and everyone's buying things why shouldn't she be allowed to buy something, too? It's not at all fair otherwise.
I just spent the weekend at a beach resort. I live in a culture where the city folks (both Slavic and Kyrgyz) fiercely limit their children. Here are some examples:
A 12 year-old (12 year-old!) girl is swinging on a tiny swing made of pipes of wood - there is no possibility whatever of wrapping the swing over the crossbar as with our chain swings(remember swinging so high you thought you could do that?). Happy and proud, she cries, "Look daddy! Daddy, look!"
"You're going too fast! Get off that thing," yelled the dad.
A hyper mom is sitting on the beach watching her son (5 or 6) swim with his dad. She keeps yelling, at intervals of about 10 seconds, "Don't do that! Don't splash like that! Don't put your feet up like that! It's cold! Stop that! Get out right this minute! Don't swim like that! It's cold! Stop that! Get out! It's cold! Now!" The kid was doing absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, I assure you.
It's a constant barrage of "It's cold!" (I swear all Russians and ex-Soviets have major anxieties about cold floors, cold drinks, cold this, cold that - moms scream at their kids if, even for one second, they put a bare foot down on a bare floor); "You'll get dirty!"; "Sit still!"; "Don't run too fast; jump too high!"; "You'll get sweaty and get sick!" blah blah blah blah
Perhaps that's why I have a fairly negative view of limit-setting. But I would never go so far as to write in this forum, "those mothers who set limits! Yeah, I don't set limits because I don't want to bring up a bunch of angst-ridden, issue-laden adults who won't be able to live through five days without seeing a therapist! You know, the kind who end up selfish pigs, screaming at their employees everyday!"
So why must I read nearly every day in this forum, and outside of it, all these nasty comments about posters who are "against limits?"
PS Thanks Magnoliablue!