As we discussed yesterday, setting limits is a specific alternative to punishment and threats. Giving a child limits is a tool in the parental (and educator) toolbox for providing positive discipline for a child. In fact, children crave routines and knowing their limits on behaviors; both help them feel safe.
Here’s five-step approach we use in classrooms to set limits with our learners in order to increase effectiveness for everyone:
Explain which behavior is inappropriate. Simply saying “stop that” may not be enough. The child may not know if you are objecting to how loudly he is talking or objecting to the language he is using. Be specific in your directive.
Explain why the behavior is inappropriate. Never assume the child knows why the behavior is not acceptable. Is she disturbing others? Being disrespectful? Not doing a task you asked of her? Again, be specific.
Give reasonable choices with natural consequences. Instead of using the ultimatum (“do this or else”), tell your child what the choices are and what the consequences of those choices will be. Ultimatums lead to power struggles because you are forcing one thing. Providing choices with consequences does not force your decision, but the child’s personal choice. Likewise, consequences that logically follow from your child’s actions usually work best as a teaching tool. Example: In an angry moment, the child chooses to break something. A logical consequence would be for the child to clean up the mess and pay for the item out of her allowance.
Allow wait time. It’s usually best to allow a few moments (not too many) for the child to make the decision. In upsetting moments, it is critical to remember the child is not thinking clearly (and neither are you, most likely). It may take a few moments for everything to process before a choice is made.
Be prepared to enforce your consequences, even when they are inconvenient. Setting a limit is completely meaningless if you do not consistently and persistently enforce the consequences you set with the choice. For example, if your consequence is no TV or social media for a month, be ready enforce it the entire month–no exceptions! Never back yourself into a corner; set reasonable enforceable consequences and stick to them!
Limits are powerful teaching tools to modeling appropriate behaviors. It’s really not about who’s the boss; it’s about modeling respect, giving guidance, and ensuring an overall feeling of safety and security in a nurturing, calm manner. You are your child’s first and most important teacher; practice these techniques and never give up hope! As I remind parents daily, the days of raising our children are long, but the years are far too short…
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