Importance of Setting Limits
Humans are not born knowing how to behave. They are born immature, impulsive, insatiable, and undisciplined. That's why they have parents — to teach them what is expected, to set rules and standards for approved conduct, and to define and enforce consequences for behavior. Adults "spoil" children when they neglect to give them this kind of structure.
Children need and want guidance and limits until they can depend on themselves to make appropriate choices. Children depend on their parents to set up the limits of how much TV (can I watch?), how late (can I stay up?), how many (new outfits can I have?) when (do I need to be quiet?) and where (can I go without you?). As children grow, their boundaries need to expand.
The Search Institute has found 40 developmental assets or resources children need to grow up healthy, caring, and responsible. Family boundaries that state clear rules and consequences and have active follow-through are one of the essential assets. Children require firm, loving boundaries in order to feel safe and to learn the effects of their behavior on others.
Newborns to 12-month-olds are too young to understand boundaries. Parents or caregivers can provide security by offering love, cuddling, protection, and redirection to these tiny humans. Baby-proof your house to keep them safe. Give caring attention to build the basic parent-child bond and instill trust.
One- to three-year-olds can understand "No" and that consequences follow their behavior. Children of these ages sometimes say "no" just to hear it come out of their mouths. Notice your reaction to your child's "No!" Over-reaction, "How dare you say that to me!" only reinforces the behavior. Redirecting your child's attention without responding to the "no" is effective.
Children who are defiantly saying "NO!" are probably hearing it often from parents. Here are some tips:
- Say "Out of bounds" in place of "No."
- Decrease the number of "no's" you say by telling your child what it is you want him/her to do.
- When you must say "no," also tell your child two things they can do. For example: "Don't use the marker on the wall. Use this paper or this easel for drawing."
- Instead of automatically saying, "No," ask yourself, "Why not?" If the behavior isn't harmful, unhealthy or life-threatening, perhaps you could allow your child to continue. Make the environment safe, and permit exploration.
Copyright 2007 by Idaho Department of Health and Welfare
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