Something basic to facilitate coexistence is trying to maintain our behavior around parameters we call social norms. If on some occasions adults perceive these parameters as arbitrary and illogical; It is even more common for children to have difficulty assimilating them and acting accordingly.

During the process (the recognition and respect of norms), adults are key characters, since in large part through us it is how they learn what they are expected to do and what they are not. Specifically, our influence has to do with the way we teach what the limits are and what happens if they are not respected.

In this article, we will see some differences between limits and punishments, as well as one of the proposals of modern pedagogy to maintain a respectful educational style that at the same time transmits to the child some guidelines necessary to live together.

  • “The 6 stages of childhood (physical and psychological development)”

Authority or negotiation?

Since the educational models began to be “child-centered”, early childhood education has moved from a model of authority (where adults were the ones who gave the orders and the children simply followed them); to a model rather based on negotiation, where the child’s own need must be taken into account and not just that of the adult.

In this sense, when using concepts such as norms, discipline, limits, and authority in early childhood education, we generally do not speak of an authoritarian model that suggests domination, but of a model that seeks coexistence, respect, tolerance, and responsibility for own acts

However, the negotiation-based model has generated some difficulties, not only for children but also for caregivers and educators, since it is sometimes transformed into a permissive and overprotective parenting style.

What does “set limits” mean?

Setting limits is necessary because in this way we teach children that they cannot do absolutely everything they want without considering how that affects other people.

This even helps to develop other skills, such as recognizing one’s limits and how others should approach or not; It can also help children recognize and establish clear limits regarding long-term self-demand.

In practical terms, setting a limit is to specify the child when, how and where behavior is not allowed; and when, how and where it is allowed.

For example, when young children are in the process of understanding risky behaviors, it is common for them to approach dangerous spaces and do things like stick their fingers in the plugs, put their hands on the stove or stove, run to where there are cars, etc.

In addition to taking the necessary and classic measures such as covering the plugs, it is also useful to indicate in the firm, short sentences and simple words, that “not here.” It is also important to set clear limits on the approach of others, especially to distinguish their personal space and the space of others.

Finally, setting limits is not the same as defining or even imposing norms, which do not necessarily facilitate coexistence but do correspond to the values ​​of each context. For example, getting good grades or not sleeping after 10:00 pm is a rule that varies according to the dynamics that exist in different spaces.

Differences between limit and punishment

After setting a limit, what follows is the child’s response. Children generally do not respect the limit the first indication, although it can also happen that they do not do either the second or the third, to which, an answer from the adult follows.

Next, we will know the differences between the limits and the punishments.

1. The limit is only the indication, the punishment is the answer

The limit is only the indication, the punishment is the response to the child’s behavior. The limit then is the specification of what is not allowed and the punishment is the adult’s response, once the child has not respected that specification. The punishment is usually loaded with emotions such as anger, so it is more an adult’s response to their relief, which has few effects or can even have negative effects, on the child’s education and discipline.

2. The limit anticipates a consequence, the punishment does not

The limit anticipates the consequence, the punishment is the consequence not anticipated. Being a specification, the limit causes the child to recognize certain rules, which he can respect, or not. Punishment is the response of the adult who does not anticipate (it is given arbitrarily by the adult).

3. The punishment is not consistent with the conduct or the limit

The main characteristic of the punishment is that it has no relation or logic with the child’s behavior and also with the limit that has been set. For example, when he is denied the time to watch television for some inappropriate behavior he has had at school.

How to establish logical consequences instead of punishments?

The concept of “consequence” applied in education has many of its antecedents in the philosophy of María Montessori, an Italian doctor, and pedagogue who laid the foundations for the development of a whole psycho-pedagogical method that is currently very popular.

Based on his studies, Montessori realized that children can discipline and regulate themselves; but this is a process that is largely achieved through the accompaniment and guidelines generated by adults.

Thus, he concludes that we must convey to boys and girls that behaviors have natural and logical consequences. For example, if they walk without paying attention to nearby objects, they can be hit (natural consequence).

Or, for example, that if a child hits another, that others will not only cry or get angry, but the child must offer an apology (logical consequence). For this type of consequence, adult intervention is necessary.

So, a consequence, in addition to being what happens in response to any behavior, is also a guideline that allows you to recognize or anticipate what can happen when you cross or ignore a limit.

By allowing the consequence to anticipate, what we favor is the child’s self-regulation; and that the adult no longer depends on anger to facilitate it, because the child relates his behavior to the consequence, which will allow him to avoid it later.

Likewise, it is important that the child not only learn how he should not behave but as if; that is, give him an alternate tool to meet his need (for example, asking for things or expressing his anger, instead of hitting).

Characteristics of a logical consequence:

The consequences and limits are not recipes that can be applied equally to all children, they vary according to the needs and characteristics of both the context and the caregivers or educators, as well as the child’s development.

In line with the above, we are going to list some important things about what a logical consequence is, which can be useful depending on the case:

    1. Immediate: It occurs at the time of the behavior, not two weeks or months later, when the child no longer remembers what he did or has become accustomed to that behavior is allowed; because also, if a lot of time passes, it is more difficult to understand what the alternative is.
    1. Safe: Fulfill what we anticipate (for example, do not anticipate that there will be no recess time if we know that in the end, we will give you the recess time). We must be sure and certain that it is in our possibilities to facilitate a logical consequence.
    1. Consistent: The logical consequences are related to the child’s behavior (for example in a classroom: “if you are playing at the time of studying, then you will have to work at the time we set aside to play”; instead of “if you are playing at the time work, you leave class ”). As for the behaviors that occur in school, they must have a consequence right there; Do not apply them at home if they have nothing to do.