The funnel is one of the best and perhaps most infamous analogies offered by the Ezzos. The funnel represents the freedoms you allow your child given his age. The funnel represents the guidance and boundaries you give your child. The Ezzos implore us to parent inside the funnel.
“A common mistake is to parent outside the funnel in the early years. In an effort to give the child confidence, parents sometimes allow their children behaviors or freedoms that are neither age-appropriate nor in harmony with the child’s moral and intellectual capabilities,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 155).
What this means is that you consciously choose what freedoms are appropriate given your child’s age and maturity. You don’t allow a freedom that your child cannot be responsible for. You don’t allow a freedom that you will one day have to take away. You don’t allow your child to choose for himself what freedoms are appropriate.
How do you know if a behavior is outside the funnel?
This is very simple. Watch your child. Keep your eye out for behaviors that seem beyond his age level. If it bothers you that he exhibits a particular behavior, there’s a reason it bothers you. Listen to that intuition. If it bothers you, don’t allow it. Ask yourself if he does any of the following:
- Enters any room of the house at will
- Gets food from the pantry whenever he wants
- Ransacks his room with little regard or respect for its contents
- Puts up a fight about wearing the shorts and tank top even though it’s 40 degrees out
- Insists that he eat cereal instead of eggs for breakfast
- Climbs out of his crib or playpen even when told to stay put
- Speaks disrespectfully to any adult, particularly you and your spouse
- Leaves your side in public without informing you
- Goes into the backyard without asking
These are just a few examples of a young child who is acting outside the funnel. He has been allowed freedoms that are not age-appropriate. Some of these freedoms are perhaps appropriate for a teenager. If your 2-year-old is exhibiting them, he is clearly outside the funnel.
Why should you limit your child’s freedoms?
There is nothing wrong with allowing your child to have some freedoms, as long as they are age-appropriate. For example, allowing your 3-year-old to choose his own toys is possibly a freedom he can be responsible for. If he plays with them appropriately and can take care of them by putting them away when he’s done, it is an age-appropriate freedom. Also consider whether he is characterized by respecting his property. If he consistently ransacks his room during roomtime, perhaps the toys or the room itself are freedoms he doesn’t have the responsibility to have.
Consider this. A group of researchers performed a study on a group of students to see how they would react if they took away the fences that lined the perimeter of the school. When the fences were up, the children would play freely, far away from the school buildings and even linger around the fence. When the fences were taken down, the students huddled much closer to the school buildings. The students felt more secure when those fences were up. Without the limits that the fences established, they were unsure as to how far they should go. The same goes with setting limits for your child. The more you set limits, the more secure your child will feel.
Also important is the fact that setting limits and parenting inside the funnel is yet another way to establish parental authority over your child. If your child defers to you to determine what he is allowed to say and do, he is much more likely to respect your authority.
But perhaps the reason that most interests you is the fact that limiting your child’s freedoms will improve his behavior and reduce your frustration.
How will this affect your child’s behavior?
Keeping your child inside the funnel and only allowing freedoms that are age-appropriate is huge in keeping his behavior in check. I mentioned that it builds your parental authority. Beyond this, it teaches your child that he does not have 100% freedom over his environment and his actions. Could this stifle his independence? Yes, it could. This is why you need to let your child grow into the wider parts of the funnel as he matures. But if he is right where he should be in the funnel, he will have much greater control over his own actions.
Think about the examples I gave above. The reason these freedoms are not age-appropriate for a 2-year-old is that a child that age does not have the moral or practical knowledge that accompanies those freedoms. A toddler does not understand the science of nutrition and wouldn’t know that a bowl of sugary cereal is less healthy than a breakfast of eggs and toast. Nor does he understand that the resulting sugar high would adversely affect his behavior.
This lack of moral and practical knowledge can be applied to many of the behaviors I listed. As you limit your child’s freedoms according to his age and understanding, his behaviors will improve quite immediately. Perhaps you get frustrated that your toddler climbs the stairs on his own. Once you remove that freedom, that frustration will disappear. Perhaps you get frustrated that your preschooler goes outside on his own. Once you remove that freedom, or at least require that he ask permission, that frustration will disappear. Imagine how peaceful your home can be.
Let me describe what it looks like when your child firmly knows his boundaries inside the funnel.
- When your child wakes up in the morning, he dresses himself in the clothes you have laid out for him.
- If he happens to wake up when you’re still sleeping, he stays in his room and plays quietly until you wake up.
- He washes his hands when you ask and eats the food that is placed in front of him, no matter what dish it’s in.
- After taking his dishes to the kitchen, he asks permission to play in the backyard and will abide by any instructions you give about outside play.
- He knows that certain rooms in the house are off-limits.
- He puts his toys away after playing with them.
- He stays within your line of sight, as you have requested, in public places.
- He keeps his hand on the shopping cart as you have asked, no matter how much he hates grocery shopping.
- He goes to bed (and stays there) peacefully and quietly every night.
Does this all sound too good to be true? These are things that my 4-year-old son William is characterized by doing on a consistent basis. This utopia is a reality in my home. Did this happen on its own overnight? Certainly not. It required diligent parenting on my part. If you apply the same amount of diligence, while considering many of the other aspects of preventing misbehavior, your home can also look like this.
Start thinking through your child’s freedoms and strongly consider whether he has freedoms that you need to take away. In my next post, I’ll go into more detail about some of the common pitfalls parents run into when keeping their children’s behaviors inside the funnel.