It’s true; we bring this precious life into the world to nurture, love, grow, and shape into an upstanding citizen and leader of the next generation. No one bothers to remind you (as you leave for home that first time) there is no instruction or direction manual for this precious child. As my dear daddy quips, “You need a license to drive, hunt, fish, get married, or any other number of things in life, but anyone can be a parent.”
During a recent parent conference, I was reminded again of the fine art of setting limits with a child, especially one who is, shall we say, a unique challenge. When we, as parents (or educators), are faced with undesirable behavior from our child, we have to make the decision about how to respond to the behavior. It is easy to be emotional in these moments, but logic should control our response every time.
Likewise, it is much easier to punish than to think of logical consequences connected to the child’s behavior (I call these natural consequences). Punishment works in the short term because it usually stops the unwanted behavior. In the long run, though, punishment does nothing to solve the original problem and can lead to resentment and retaliation (especially in the teen years)—much more difficult to manage it then!
Did you know the actual word discipline comes from a Latin word meaning “to teach” or “to lead?” When you discipline the child, you are setting limits as an alternative to threats or punishment. Limits are powerful tools for parents and teachers to use and setting limits is an art indeed:
Setting a limit is not the same as issuing an ultimatum. Limits are not threats; they offer choices with consequences. “If you clean up your room, you can go outside with your friends. If you don’t clean up your room, you will not go outside with your friends. It’s your choice.”
The purpose of limits is to teach, not to punish. With limits, a child begins to understand personal actions, positive and negative results, and natural consequences. Giving a child choices and consequences provides a structure for good decision-making later in life.
Setting limits is more about listening than talking. Take time to actively listen to your child to better understand thoughts and feelings. You learn more this way and it helps you set more meaningful limits in the future.
In tomorrow’s blog, I will offer five steps to setting limits. In the meantime, remember to give choices and consequences—no one said the choices had to be likable…that’s part of the art of setting limits!