Limit Setting with Children, Part 2

Last week I shared my favorite limit setting technique:

  1. Acknowledge the feeling
  2. Communicate the Limit
  3. Target an alternative

I believe it is an excellent beginning to setting appropriate limits with kids of all ages.  Over the last couple of decades working with families, I have noticed several pitfalls we parents fall into when we attempt to set appropriate limits.  Here are a few of them:

Giving Directions

  • Give kids some lead time when they’ll need to make a transition.  For example, ” In 10 mins it will be time to pick up the toys.”  Then, “You have 5 more minutes.”  This is especially helpful for kids who have difficulty with transitioning between activities.
  • State the directive rather than ask, unless you are really giving the child a choice.  For example, “It’s time to pick up the toys now” is better than, “Tom will you please pick up the toys now?”  The latter was a request and sounds as if you are asking for a favor rather than giving a direction!  No wonder kids often respond with, ” No. I don’t want to!”
  • Also related to the above, is ending your request with an “Okay?”  For example, ” It’s time to pick up the toys now, okay?”  What’s that “okay” for at the end??  What if the child says, “Well no, mom, it’s really NOT ok!”  Does that mean they don’t have to pick up the toys?  The truth is that it really doesn’t matter if it’s okay with them or not.  It’s time to pick up the toys now!

Following Through

Only set limits you are prepared to follow through with.  For example when you say, “If you choose to keep yelling we will leave  and go home.”  Then you  must be prepared to do just that.  Otherwise your words are meaningless.  Be prepared to be tested.

Use a Calm Voice

If you get in the habit of yelling, your kids won’t listen to you until you yell.  It’s as simple as that.

No Arguing or Debating

When you argue with a child you put yourself on his level in the family hierarchy.  Is that where you want to be? Kids argue with their siblings and their friends.  That is normal.  They should not be allowed to argue with adults.  That does not mean they can not express their feelings.  (That is the “A” in the ACT above).  But after the parent makes the decision, it is over.

Parents should be Partners 

If there’s a significant decision to be made, decide in private what the decision will be and present it in a unified manner.  Don’t make your spouse the bad guy in an effort to ally with your kids. Your kids will notice it. What are you teaching them about intimate relationships and marriage?

Parenting is hard work. But I firmly believe that the more parents are in charge of their households, the more relaxed their kids will be and the more harmonious the home will be.  And you don’t have to be a tyrant!  You can be both firm and loving.  You can follow all these guidelines with a smile on your face, a kind demeanor and enjoy each other.  Isn’t that what we all want?

Let me know your thoughts and what pitfalls you find yourself falling into from time to time.

About Gretchen Derda (Woosley), MSW, LCSW

I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in a private psychotherapy practice where I specialize in work with families and children. My focus is to help families improve their functioning so that each member of the family can reach their full potential, becoming the persons they were meant to be.
This entry was posted in adolescent mental health, child mental health, mental health, parenting and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Limit Setting with Children, Part 2

  1. catie says:

    i love your advice, gretchen.
    at our house “lead time” has always helped – especially when kids are engrossed in something and have lost track of time. it’s like the snooze button on an alarm clock & makes those last 5 minutes seem like a bonus.
    what do you think about giving kids a “choice” when giving directions?
    sometimes when they balk at “5 more minutes” i say, “well, you can choose to be finished now, or to be finished in 5 minutes.” of course they choose more time, but somehow the “choice” makes it easier to accept.

    • Gretchen D. Woosley, MSW, LCSW says:

      Catie, I think that choice giving is a good idea as long as either choice is good for the adult and that the “5 more minutes” doesn’t lead to an ongoing debate!

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