Most parents I meet are looking for beneficial strategies to set healthy limits with their children, without fighting, yelling, or having to power struggles. Here it is, in 3 steps.
Setting limits and boundaries on children’s behavior is one of the challenges of parenting for the very simple reason that we feel the need for a limit when the challenging behavior is already there. So how can we know if we should, indeed, set the limit and take the risk of a tantrum, or should we give up – and “risk” our perception of self, as parents?
Set Limits with Kids – Yes or No?
Before we rush to limits, let’s ask ourselves who is really setting that limit. Are we about to set the limit because we were told that this limit should be set? Are we setting the limit because it is a socially accepted limit and we believe this is a limit that should be set? Or do we really, internally, need to set that limit now?
Step #1: Take a minute and think; let your heart do the thinking. Sometimes the limit we are about to set is necessary, and other times it is redundant. Be the one making YOUR parenting decisions.
When our decisions are taken wholeheartedly, we approach these decisions in the same manner, without fear, guilt, or shame.
In one of the parenting seminars I taught last week, an awesome mama shared how she always told her son not to climb a specific playground fixture because her friends told her he’s too young or too small. Her little one, sure of his abilities (or at least willing to explore them) always burst out in tears when his mom told him not to climb it. And she always felt guilty for not allowing it, because she, too, thought he will probably make it.
She wanted to fit in, to not be judged. In the name of this fear and this guilt – she had daily struggles with her son to the extent she even decided they will not go to that playground anymore.
Well guess what – she emailed me, all happy and excited after visiting that playground. Her son didn’t quite make it in the first time, but he learned from his mistake and climbed all the way up and back down on his second attempt. Did she fear he’d fall? Sure she did.
Was she super proud to see him make it? Damn right she did. Now just imagine how capable, secure, strong, and empowered the little one feels, after following his heart’s wish and showing everyone, himself included, what an awesome guy he is.
This was almost taken away from him, in the name of a social limit that had nothing to do with him or with his mother.
When Setting Limits…
Hearing the dreaded “no” is hard for everyone, adults and children alike. Our brains easily slide down the slippery slope of interpretation and into the world of “they don’t care about me”, “they don’t love me”, “they don’t see me”. And when our “no” meets that interpretation, we can expect nothing but anger, frustration, resistance, offence, and in most cases – a cheerful combination of all these.
In the long run, this combination of feelings will result in a relationship let by power struggles and fights. And that doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?
Set Limits and Keep the Connection – Here’s How
Usually, when we are at the point of setting the limit, we’re already angry, our needs are not getting met, and our cup is usually quite empty. This combination of feelings sets us off on a bad start, because we’d usually bark the limit our, maybe even yell it out, and say nothing but the words describing the limit, and what the child needs to do.
That doesn’t sound like something one would be too eager to cooperate with, right?
Instead, we want to create a dialogue where everyone’s needs are heard, seen, and accepted.
Step #2: Speak your needs and feelings
The TV Goes Off NOW
So instead of something like the above, let’s make it into “honey, I’m really tired and I would like to go to bed early because I have so many things to do tomorrow, shall we?”
Following a candid sentence like this, two things can happen: the little one might turn the TV off and come with you, or he might resist.
Step #3: Give your little one’s needs and feelings space
If he resists, we always want to give his experience space, respect, and presence with empathetic words, so that even if he doesn’t get to have it his way, he is not left with the experience of not being seen, not being heard, and not being accepted.
“Are you frustrated that I am making the choice now, when you would make a different choice? You really like this TV show and you can’t understand why I won’t allow another episode?”
Shutting the door on that slippery slope of interpretation will make it much easier for our little ones to accept the set limit and follow our lead.
And it gets even easier if we completely return the sense of autonomy using this magic sentence to gain our children’s cooperation.
The Benefits of Setting Limits in a Connected Manner
In the short term:
Our little ones feel connected, seen, and heard even though they had to follow the limit. In addition they will be less moved by counter will and resistance and show flexibility and willingness to move towards us. Figuratively speaking, but not only 🙂
In the long run:
We will be building a safe place where their feelings are seen, heard, and respected and their life experience is one of being seen, heard, and respected, which allows for their positive outlook on life, other people, and themselves.
Setting healthy limits with kids is about keeping their autonomy and freedom in mind, even when their needs can’t be met. Children who grow up feeling seen, heard, and respected become adults who see, hear, and respect others. These children grow in a safe world, where they know they are accepted and empowered to be who they are, to explore who they can become, and to help others take the same path.
Is there anything else to life but this?
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