Growing empathy for a peaceful world
Alice I love what you have said about limits. Your points display that wonderful energising tension between limits and freedom that so often confounds parents, carers and educators. In the practical world of setting limits the first thing to remember is that it is always a work in progress.
Some things/ideas that have worked for me in early childhood settings are 1. Base limits on clear observations of the child's behaviour, developmental stages and needs 2. If limits block a need that the child has, find another way to satisfy that need. eg No you cannot play with the pot plant in the lounge room but I will take you to the garded/sand pit and you can play in the dirt all you like there. 3. Once you decide on a limit know that the limit is not you. The limit or rule is not about how much you do or don't care for the child. If you can view the limit like a third party in the relationship, then you can collaberate with the child and help them to respond and find solutions to their developmental needs within that limit, and also give support, empathy and comfort when the child is pushing strongly against the limit. eg I know you want to do this thing but the rule is that we do not do x. I know it's hard for you right now. Can I give you a cuddle? Can we think of something else you would like to do? etc 4. Be really clear with the child which parts of the environment are "free" and which are "limitted" eg No you can't go out the gate but you can play anywhere in the yard. 5. Have as few rules as possible. I use - care of self - care of others - and care of the environment - as my basic values that can then inform my limit setting. 6. When we set limits, so much of our own childhood experience influences our behaviour, for better or worse. The clearer we can be the easier it is for the child.
As an educator I have always had a classroom with very clear boundaries. Within those boundaries there was lots of freedom. So it was an absolute delight when one of my ex students (at the age of 27) said that what he recalled of the classroom was that he could do what he liked. Now, this was definitely not true but what it says to me is that within the limits and boundaries that were set, he could still meet all his needs in an atmosphere of freedom