Setting Limits

Limit Setting, in many ways, is what parenting is all about. We have to do it, often, many times a day.

Why children test limits, and what to do about it

Children test limits when they have gone “off-track”.  This happens when – for whatever reason – they have lost their sense of connection with themselves, and with us.  Often this is because they are carrying a big load of emotional tension.  When we bring limits, it can provide an opportunity for a child to offload that tension. Rather than being a problem, children’s upsets about our limits are actually the pathway – admittedly sometimes rocky – towards co-operation and workable behaviours.

We can bring limits playfully, sometimes firmly, but always warmly and gently.  The laughter that erupts around playful limit setting eases the way – either to co-operation, or to tears and tantrums as children release deeper hurts.

    In Hand in Hand, we encourage adults to take responsibility for setting limits by:

  • Stopping thoughtless or hurtful behaviour, without blame.
  • Moving in close to children, holding out a reasonable limit without backing down or being angry or hurtful to the child.
  • Staying to listen to feelings and upsets about the limits we have set.

Children will recover their co-operative, reasonable selves once they have offloaded their feelings.

The relationship bank account

Our relationship with our children can be thought about as a kind of “bank account”.  We need to keep it in credit for things to go well.  Connection provides that credit – and when we bring necessary limits with our children, we often use up credit.   Each time we do that, we need to find a way to replenish our child’s sense of connection with us.  The Listening Tools of Special Time and Playlistening are very efficient ways to do that.  A child who feels respected, seen and appreciated will respond better to reasonable limit setting – either accepting the limit once enough connection is furnished, or offloading the feelings which are driving the off-track behaviour.

Why consequences Don’t Work

It can be so easy to reach for consequences when you feel frustrated with your children. And while you are more powerful than your child, they might get some results.

But in the longer run, that exercise of power doesn’t work. As our children get older, and gain some power of their own, your efforts at coercion will show up in conflict and tension.

Find out more: Why Consequences Don’t Work

Want to learn more?

Try this course: I can highly recommend the short, online course offered by Hand in Hand Parenting (Palo Alto) Setting Limits and Building Co-operation.   It explains why children test limits, and how to set limits while strengthening your connection with your children.  You’ll gain valuable new skills for building co-operation, defusing power struggles and solving problems in your family. Plus, you’ll learn how to deal with your own frustrations and exhaustion. In three hours of video and reading materials, designed to be watched in bite-sized pieces at your own pace, you’ll be introduced to a step by step process for making limit setting a positive experience.

Cost: For about $AU50 ($US39), it’s a real bargain.  Combine it with a Parenting Consultation with Madeleine  to make a connection plan that will help you find more good times in your family life. Learn more and register

Listening Tools

Download helpful PDF’s on:
The Hand in Hand Toolbox
Staylistening
Special Time

Would you like to talk to someone in-person?

Get immediate help –  Book a Free Short Consultation now! You weren’t meant to parent alone and we would love to help.

Here are some stories about setting limits:

When She Must Have a Phone: Children often use pre-texts – issues to get upset about – but they are really needing to download about much more important things. In this story, a mother holds a limit on giving her pre-teen daughter a phone, and Staylistens as her daughter pours out her worries and feelings. Afterwards, her daughter accepts that she can’t have a phone now.

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Free for reuse as long as you credit the author. See our copyright page for details.
© 2019 by Madeleine Winter.
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