The Daily Groove


The next time some friend or relative warns you that your parenting style is too permissive, do what any self-respecting 3-year-old would do: Ask, "Why?"

"Because children need limits."


Most people who hold this belief have never questioned it. Those who are willing to examine it might notice that life presents children with many, many limits, and maybe they don't need their parents to add even more.

But some will answer with yet another unquestioned belief: "Because they need to learn that they can't always get their way."


Be as relentless as a 3-year-old! Now you're getting to the root of the distortion: the scarcity principle. Maybe he or she is ready to entertain the possibility that we live in an abundant universe — that life is not a zero-sum game.

Or maybe he or she will resort to fundamentalist rhetoric: "That's just the way things are."


Comments (closed)

Re: Why?

This doesn't help me because, as a recovering mainstream thinker, I have read and heard and even told others (multiple times) that children need boundaries because it makes them feel secure and loved. To ask someone, "Why?" after they have given that kind of answer would not make any sense. Could you please address this?

Re: Why?

maria, ma, dd:5 yo

I agree with the previous commenter… my answer to those questions has to do with my child feeling safe and taken care of, and doesn't seem such a bad one.

Re: Why?

I too am interested in this topic. I have always followed my instincts on this one...setting limits for safety and not just arbitrary things because, "I said so". It seems to me that with a huge and wide open world that Is nourishing, yes, but also, Huge, a child needs a place to feel secure and know some boundaries. I always felt this to resemble the womb in a sense. The home as a womb of sorts where the questions were not always boundless and there were "knowns". I know when there is rhythm in the day(knowns)that children are more secure and peaceful.
I would love to hear your respnse to this.

Thanks for your thoughts!

In response to the three comments above...

I wrote this groove specifically for parents who are already clear that they want to place fewer limits on their children and are facing criticism from other parents for being "too permissive."

While I don't hide my distaste for the conventional notion of parents as limit-setters, I frequently coach parents to clarify their own personal boundaries and honor them — even if their children don't like it. More often than not, they discover that they can honor their boundaries without opposing their children.

What makes children feel secure is not that they are being limited, but that their caregivers are confident, have clarity, and know who they are.

That's why I encourage leading-edge parents to cultivate their ability to be confidently uncertain. That skill makes it possible for you to question conventional wisdom without undermining your child's sense of security.

Re: Why?

I've used this method - especially for people who questioned breastfeeding past a certain age. I was prepared to use it more but to my disappointment I didn't get questioned much. :) I got more questions with my first son, but with my second everyone (including me) knew I was going to do it my way.

Re: In response to the three comments above...

I love your answer to this. I completely agree.

I'd go on to say that it's not that 'children need limits' but that they need to know where the limits are in this limiting box of earthly existence.

And, no, they do not need to learn that "they can't always get their own way". But they certainly can benefit from guidance to learn how to get what they want. (Not to mention it being much more pleasant in peaceful in a home where everyone is confident in their own boundaries.)

There are societal rules that work for you if you know them and, even more importantly, there are Universal rules that do the same. We can guide our children in a way that prepares them to make the best use of the tools available. Those rules are tools if you let them be!

Thank you for your thought provoking info, Scott. I'm really enjoying your wisdom.