Why Set Limits?
Children need to feel safe and secure in order to learn. When a child has no boundaries, he/she feels out of control or anxious. Boundaries are not punitive, they are comforting and offer a place to try new things and explore safely. John Medina author of Brain Rules for Babies states, “ …need for safety is so powerful, the presence of rules themselves often communicates safety to children.” Parents easily set boundaries for infants, but find it harder once the child is mobile and becoming more independent.
Limits and boundaries are often created in our homes, but they are not consistently enforced. Parents may think that they are being too strict when imposing limits, but then wonder why their child is in a meltdown. Tantrums happen when a child is out of control; his body simply is unable to function and has trouble calming (regulating). One of the main ways a parent can slow down the tantrums is by creating limits and sticking to them. Prevention is the key when dealing with unwanted behaviors. Having appropriate expectations for a child, creating limits, offering choices and letting them know you understand are all ways to prevent misbehavior. When a child misbehaves, a consequence may occur. A consequence is not punishment; it is a choice the child made. If he makes a choice to hit or scream or throw toys then he is choosing not to play with that child, toy or be in that place. We want to teach the child how to act and by creating a consequence we are helping them to control themselves the next time. Using positive language and telling the child what you want him to do is important. Rudolph Dreikurs author of Children the Challenge, talked about misbehavior as, “behavior that comes from failing to find a way through cooperation.” Children want to please us but need to know what we expect in order for them to comply.
Once the limits are in place, your child may test them to see if they are firm. Consistency is important at this juncture. If you remember that discipline means to teach, your interactions with your child will be more instructive and less destructive. Instead of saying, “NO! Johnny, get down from that table!” You might try, “Johnny, we climb outside; climbing on the table is dangerous”, and take Johnny off the table as you say it. Make sure your words are clear and you are on his level when you say them. You may further remind him that we eat on the table and climb on the jungle gym. Parents often say No to their children and then go on to tell them what they want, or give them an instruction. If instead you take a breath and just tell them what your want them to do instead of saying No first, you will have a more cooperative child. If Johnny goes back to climb on the table again, take him down and tell him he has made a choice to play with you in another room, so you can keep him safe. Make the consequence connected to the misbehavior, so he learns that it makes sense and helps him remember not to do that again.
Parenting is hard work. All this hard work will pay off when your children are able to control their bodies, become independent and learn from their mistakes.