Importance of Setting Limits (page 2)
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.
Decide on the Boundaries
As the parent, it is your job to decide on the boundaries for your child. These include physical things such as, "The car doesn't start until everyone is in seatbelts." And emotional safety including, "Our family respects and is kind to one another. Name-calling is out of bounds." Teach and use the terms "boundaries" and "out of bounds."
Specifically plan ahead with your child so they knows exactly what to expect. "When you are in the store, I expect you to walk. Running around is out of bounds. If you decide to run, we will go to the car for a time-out."
You must enforce the boundaries by following through immediately with your consequence. Using words, explanations, and lectures do not persuade young children. Driven by strong emotion, they cannot be reasoned with. You must take action. Silently carry your child, if necessary, to your time-out place. Sit there quietly for a few minutes with your child and do not give attention of any kind — no physical, verbal, or eye contact. "Now, let's try again to play in a friendly way/walk /etc." If you are away from home, use your car for your time-out place. Children require a dependable firm response from you in order to grow up healthy and accountable.
Child psychologist Rudolph Dreikers used a wonderful quote with parents: "Shut up and act!" Instead of arguing with your child, stay calm, or take a time-out yourself until you are. Focus on the rule or demand. "Please, please, please can I have just one cookie now!" begs your child. Respond with, "Our family rule is no dessert before dinner." Keep a neutral tone and facial expression.
Agree with your child, "I know you don't like that rule. I understand your feeling mad, nevertheless the rule stands." If your child continues the discussion, answer, "Take a time-out. We'll talk later when you are calm."
Your child's job is to test your boundaries with whining, pouting, or cruel words like, "You are the meanest mommy." Your clever child will figure out exactly how to push your buttons, and press you to give in. Withstand the test.
This is probably the toughest thing a parent faces. The displeasure caused by your firm "No" and the consequence when a boundary is crossed is critical for your child to experience in order to learn. Your child is depending on you to be mature and strong in the face of his/her emotions.
You do not need to be your child's friend. You need to be their parent — firm and fair, offering love and limits. Your reasonable limits and consistent follow-through cause a greater, not a lesser, sense of security and love within your child.<
Until youth can depend on themselves to make appropriate choices, we must be sure they can depend on us, the Wise Elders, for creating and enforcing structure, limits, and boundaries in their lives. Say what you mean, firmly and kindly, and consistently do what you say.
Written by: Ruthann Saphier, M.A., a parenting educator and author of
Parenting Tips for the Strung Out Mom and Dad — A Tool Kit
Copyright 2007 by Idaho Department of Health and Welfare
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