Limits are needed to create respect for others

Why such an emphasis on the word limits? Limits are needed for a person not to become limitless. Limits are actually needed for logical thinking to develop. If matters have no reason, why think? Logical thinking starts to develop at a young age. Children need to receive appropriate directives and restrictions since it is necessary to learn to understand that other people have needs to. This is the base of social development. Individuals, who do not respect limits, will never be able to respect others.

By nature children move through three levels of respect.

1) The first level is that a child can only ‘obey’ someone else when it meets the child’s own needs. This is a natural phase that belongs to the first three years of life. It is built in by nature so that the child is not ‘bothered’ yet by too many restrictions and can spend all their energy on self-construction. During this period the infant and toddler slowly realise that they are a separate entity from mum. At birth they become physically separated but it still takes three years for the mind to mature to a separate individual organism.

This oneness and separateness process is beautifully described in the book with the same name written by Dr. Kaplan. As mum is slowly claiming her separateness again during the first three years of the child’s life, the infant receives the message that both people are unique beings with their own likes and dislikes. This is a very necessary process for the child in order to be able to form their own identity. Limit setting is a necessary part of this process; “No, please do not bite mummy”, “I can not pick you up right now, I am carrying the groceries”, “Hold my hand when we cross the street” and other phrases help this process along.

Once this process is ‘completed’ the child actually starts saying “I”. Before that it was the child calling himself by his own name, or saying “me”. So the language indicates a little where the child is in the process.

2) Once the child has integrated the identity, he/she becomes ready to integrate in a group. This brings new experiences since other people will point out their likes and dislikes. This helps the child to move to the second level of respect. Which is being able to do what someone else asks even when it does not meet a personal need. This is a huge step in the social development and the base for successful relationships. By nature, the period of 3 to 6 is set aside for this intense growth in social awareness. In school this is very obvious, since it is the time where children, instead of working parallel to each other as they do in the Toddler Community, start to like to sit together and work in small groups. Therefore some of the materials have now also ‘matured’ from an individual to a groups level. Children practice social rules; they have little conflicts, start to learn problem solving language and techniques and learn to ‘listen’ to others. In groups sessions the teachers introduce ‘Grace and Courtesy’ exercises. They sit in a circle and play a little scene on e.g. how to say “Good morning”, how to say “thank you”, how to say “can I help you?”  Due to their conscious mind the children can now experience and learn to think about social interactions and courtesies.

3) Based upon healthy completion of the first two levels of respect, a third level exists in that individuals respect the larger whole.  This is due to the fact that they are respected themselves for whom they are. This is where the theory of the learning styles comes in again. When an individual feels respect from parents/teachers/caretakers for whom he really is and can therefore develop to the utmost, simultaneously becoming consciously aware of the challenges, he projects that respect on the surrounding world.

This is the base for respect for other cultures, international mindedness, but also respect for nature, animals and the world at large. Ecology can never just be a subject. Nor does sorting out ones rubbish help a child develop respect for the world at large. Also the quote “Eat, because in Africa there are starving children!” does not have any effect on respect for others. It is a much deeper understanding of child development what is needed here. Respect stems from having been respected oneself for ones true inner life, and simultaneously having been given the limits so that the child did not stick to one learning style but formed an integrated whole with an open mind and a great deal of common sense.

As parents, of course we want our children to become happy. But we must not make the mistake that happiness comes from getting what one wants. When children do not get the age appropriate limits, they get their way instead. A feeling of entitlement develops in the child. “I am entitled to… because Johnny has it!” “I am entitled to a parent who drives me everywhere….”, ” I am entitled to a teacher who is not allowed to make my life difficult”.  Jim Fay, part of the ‘Love and Logic’ group has written a very enlightening book on this topic named ‘From Innocence to Entitlement’, a Love and Logic cure for the Tragedy of Entitlement. A tragedy it is, since the original intention was wanting the child to become happy. Happiness comes through achievements.  We help children when we ask them to become responsible individuals within the family.  They have age appropriate roles to fill which help to create independence so that they can fulfill their roles successfully.

Human beings have the wonderful added bonus to the brain named the Neo Cortex. Because of this layer we can reason, analyse, synthesise, make connections, make choices, solve problems, reflect, become engaged and much more. The Neo Cortex does not develop by itself. It needs the appropriate environment, correct stimulation and lots of situations to practice on.

When children live in an environment with appropriate freedom and logical limits, they receive opportunities to develop. When there is a level of freedom, there will be a level of conflict. And conflicts are opportunities. Often adults try to avoid these. They try to keep life smooth and happy, however, this attitude takes away important learning lessons.

A conflict is a battle of wills. Two or more individuals want something different.

It entails several learning opportunities:

  • Learning to make a choice
  • Discovering the needs of others
  • Communicating with words
  • Seeing something from another point of view

All these abilities are Neo Cortex abilities that develop through practice!

The ‘Love and Logic’ organisation gives a lot of concrete information on how to help in the family situation. Love stands for: ‘allowing a child to grow through their mistakes’. And by using Logic, they are allowed to ‘live and learn from the consequences of their choices’. By doing so, it ensures that the consequences of a person’s behaviour are not suffered by someone else and that children develop responsibility of their own actions.

At school, many criteria have been put in place to allow the development of logical thinking related to respect for others. A mix of freedoms and limits offers experiences and opportunities to grow.



1)    Multi-age Range

  • Older children provide different role models; they have already developed different vocabulary and skills.
  • Younger children in the group provide the obvious truth to the older ones that we are all different and equally important. This allows for the development of respect for differences.
  • Different ages need different learning lessons. Teachers differentiate their interaction and therefore role model a variety of behaviours.

2)    Freedoms

  • To choose an activity
  • To decide on a research topic
  • To go and get what I need to perform my work
  • To move
  • To talk, discuss with someone else
  • To eat when I am hungry
  • To go to the bathroom when necessary

3)    Related logical limits

  • We come to school to ‘work’
  • Activities need to be constructive
  • Others can not be disturbed
  • Ground rule: “My freedom ends, where someone else’s freedom begins”
  • I move appropriately
  • An object is only used for what it is meant for: e.g. hats for outside / picnic table for working on / broom for sweeping
  • I eat at the designated table and clean up after myself
  • Toilet area is only for ‘toilet business’


4)    Build in Limits in the Equipment

  • An object needs to be used for what it is meant for
  • In preschool and Primary: One piece of each kind of equipment in the classroom: children learn to become aware of the needs of others, the whereabouts of objects and need to develop communication skills: “Can I help you?”
  • Specific and constructive use of equipment
  • Child is responsible for the readiness and completeness of the material for the next child.

5)    Opportunity to make Decisions

  • Practice thinking for oneself: What do I want?
Learning not to “follow” other children inappropriately
  • Practicing making choices (within a range that is acceptable to the others)
  • Teacher gives a choice out of two when child has difficulty
  • Spontaneous interaction which provides the Practice Ground
  • Adults are aware of what is going on and collaborate when necessary.

6)    Use of Appropiate Language

  • Age appropriate language so that the child listens
  • Do not talk too much, so that the child is aware that when the adult speaks it is important to listen
  • No blaming, judging, screaming
  • Putting the responsibility with the person who caused the problem: How can you solve this?
  • Setting limits: As soon as you …… then …….

7)    Love and Logic

•    Giving children chances to act responsible,
•    Showing empathy,
•    Let the logical consequences do the teaching,
•    Allowing children to live with and learn from the consequences of their choices.

Respect cannot be taught, it needs to be practiced and lived. By providing the practice ground and guide the process of conflict resolution, children become responsible for their own actions and practice respecting others. They use their Neo Cortex and by doing so become logical thinkers who are being prepared for the real world.

Please find out more from books, videos and audiotapes produced by the Love and Logic organisation