257. Sugar, TV, Etc.

Setting limits for children is one of my least enjoyable ways to spend time with them. I don’t have much trouble setting limits when it comes to the way they treat me; I won’t let them jump on me, destroy my property, use things I don’t want used. They respect those limits, and don’t argue much. Maybe it’s my tone of voice, or maybe it’s that they’ve heard those limits from other adults.
But when the limits are about items that don’t affect me directly, I have a little more trouble setting them. If a child wants to eat a lot of sugar or watch a lot of TV, a little battle goes on in my mind: should I be firm about the limit I want to set, or should I be the lovable, roly-poly guy I want to be? I don’t want to be one of those boring adults whose mission seems to be to make sure kids don’t have fun.
I have bad memories of the statement, “I’m saying this for your own good.” I rarely believed that statement, and I promised myself I’d never use it. But the limits we adults set often are for children’s own good. Too much sugar or too much time in front of the television is unhealthy, and interferes with children’s growth. And so I do set the limits. But I don’t like it.
I know a family that has far more children than the national average. People wonder how they do it. Raising any children at all is a big job, and raising a much larger number must be exhausting. I know something about this family that’s not as well known: the television isn’t on much. If you think about it, that’s pretty impressive. The children know that TV is not going to play a big role in their lives. I also know families that don’t have sugar in their homes, and don’t order things that contain sugar when they go out to eat.
If children think they can change your mind by casting you in the role of villain, it’s worth a try. Or if they think they can sweet-talk you into compliance, why not? It’s not that children are calculating, manipulative little demons, but it’s pretty human, when you want something, to do what will get it for you.
And so, whether we like it or not, we have to set some limits, allowing children to have or do less than they sometimes would like to have or do. I knew, and still know, adults (including myself) who sometimes take this approach too far, and some (including myself) who sometimes don’t take it far enough. But like adults, children don’t always know what’s best for them. And less like adults, children can sometimes be influenced by people who may have an idea of what’s best for them.

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