The Art of Setting Limits

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.” setlimits

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!

The Art of Setting Limits, Part Two

As we discussed yesterday, setting limits is a specific alternative to punishment and threats.  Giving a child limits is a MentalToughnesspowerful 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…  🙂

We look forward to The POWER of Miller tomorrow! 

The Art of Setting Limits, Part One

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.  AchievementWordleAs 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 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?”  (See, Mr. Van…I learned so much in Italy this past summer!).  🙂  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!  🙂

Note:  Hans and Franz really PUMPED US UP today and will do so again tomorrow.  The POWER of Miller is this Thursday, September 26th! 

The Art of Setting Limits

I had the honor of visiting with a new family to our campus this year.  The parents questioned me on a number of items, but one in particular stands out in my mind, thus, the reason for this post.  Dealing with a child’s misbehavior can be a daunting task on the best of days.  When we, as parents or educators, are faced with undesirable behavior from a child, we have to make a decision about how best to respond to the behavior.  Because we are all human, we often react from our emotions (just ask my own children about this), thus we allow emotion rather than logic to control our initial response.  Sound familiar?

Mrs. Bass, our wonderful assistant principal, and I frequently bounce ideas back and forth when deciding on a natural consequence for a situation.  Now, I’m not saying we always get it right, but we do what we think is best in a given situation based on the information we know (while we ensure it follows the district’s policies concerning the Code of Conduct).  In our experiences as moms and as educators, we both have found how setting limits first is the best way to ensure lifelong learning of positive, responsible behaviors.  It is a powerful tool we use for providing positive discipline for our young learners.  (A friend made our SWAT shirts for this very reason.)

Children like limits on their behaviors; limits give a safe, secure feeling.  There are many ways to go about setting limits, but remember these three things:

  • Setting a limit is not the same as issuing an ultimatum. (Clean your room or you’re grounded for the weekend.).  Limits are not threats; limits offer choices with consequences. (If you clean your room, you can go play with your friends tonight; if you don’t clean your room, you won’t be allowed to go out to play today with friends . . . it’s your choice.)
  • The purpose of setting limits is to teach and not to punish.  Through limits, a child begins to better understand how their actions, positive or negative, result in consequences.  By giving choices and consequences, adults provide a structure for good decision-making.
  • Setting limits is more about listening than talking.  Taking the time to really listen to a child will help the adult to better understand thoughts and feelings.  By listening, we always learn so much more about what’s important so we set more meaningful limits.

Here are five tips to setting limits:

  1. Explain which behavior is inappropriate and be specific.
  2. Explain why the behavior is inappropriate because you cannot assume a child will understand why.
  3. Give reasonable choices with consequences instead of issuing ultimatums; tell the child what the choices are and what the consequences of those choices will be.  Ultimatums lead to power struggles because the child feels forced to do something.  By providing choices with consequences, you are giving the child the power (and responsibility) to decide.  Natural or logical consequences following the child’s action work best as a teaching tool. (You chose to break the lamp in your anger, so you will pay for a new one from your allowance.)
  4. Allow time (what we call wait time in education) so the child has a chance to process and make his/her decision.
  5. Be prepared to enforce your consequences, even when it’s inconvenient.  Setting a limit is meaningless if you do not consistently enforce the consequences you set.  Again, it is important to set reasonable and enforceable consequences (backing yourself into a corner with “no TV for a month” may punish you too!).

Setting limits is a powerful tool for teaching young learners appropriate and acceptable behaviors.  The purpose is not to show who’s the boss, but to give a child respect, gentle guidance, and a strong feeling of responsible security.  There is definitely an art to setting limits…and I’m definitely still learning it!  🙂