Limit Setting, in many ways, is what parenting is all about. We have to do it, often, many times a day.
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. Children’s upsets about our limits are the pathway – 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.
It’s important that we bring necessary limits with our children. But 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.
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.