Bullies & Cyber Bullying
Behavior Problems
Classroom-Student Behavior
Extracurricular Activities
Internet & Technology
Kids Health & Safety
Parenting Styles & Skills
Positive Discipline
Potty Training
Sibling Rivalry
Sleepovers & Bedtime

Boundaries & Setting Limits

We've all noticed the child that rarely, if ever, listens to his parents. The parent exasperatedly shouts out commands – "don't do that, Billy;" "get away from there, Billy;" "stop touching that, Billy." But Billy doesn't listen. Why? Because Billy knows that his exasperated parent is all talk and no action. One of the first things kids learn is where the limits are set and how likely it is that they will be able to push them. In the case of Billy, he knows that his mom isn't going to discipline him, leaving the field open for him to do pretty much what he wants.

Children and Discipline - Setting Limits

Setting limits is hard. The process is made all the harder by the fact that it has to begin when our kids are still little and cute. Watching those crumpled faces come to terms with a command that limits what he or she can't do is probably harder for us than it is for them. But, the reality is that kids that aren't given limits, and given them early on, are kids that grow up to be much harder to control – and, in this case, "control" doesn't mean conform, it means convey the importance of boundaries and how limits are everywhere and must be respected. A parent that loses that authority early on is a parent in trouble. Far too many parents fall into the trap that setting limits damages a child's self esteem. But, not setting limits fails to prepare kids to live in the real world where limits abound. Imagine a world full of adults who go about doing whatever they want regardless of the effect their actions have on others. Sounds like what we have? Maybe, but it sure could get worse. Setting limits doesn't damage kids. As a matter of fact, fairly and evenly setting and enforcing limits, allows you to build better communication and respect with your child. Setting limits lets kids weigh their options and make intelligent choices, setting them up for future success.

So, how do you discipline children by effectively set limits?

  • First, let the child know what he is doing wrong. "Danny, don't use your toy on your sister's head; that hurts her. Stop now."
  • Then, let the child know what will happen if the behavior doesn't stop immediately. "If you don't stop now, I will take the hammer away."
  • Now, give the child an acceptable course of action. "Use your toy hammer on your play tool bench set only."
  • Finally, enforce the action. Take the hammer away if Danny continues to pound on his sister's noggin. Although it's fine to give young children a second, and maybe even a third chance, it's important to avoid teaching the lessons that lead to the situation we encountered at the beginning of this article – that mom/dad will say stop but they will do nothing to enforce it. Kids figure out weak parenting pretty quickly and will take advantage of it until you're ready to pull your hair out.

Many times, the consequence of setting limits for preschoolers and kindergarteners is a tantrum. Be prepared to deal with these as they are a natural expression of frustration in young children. After all, Danny obviously thinks it's fun to whack his little sister on the head with a toy hammer. If it appears that a tantrum is imminent, redirect quickly. It's always a good idea to redirect anyway – kids have short attention spans – but if your child is prone to tantrums, have an arsenal of other things for him to do. For instance, if Danny is truly heartbroken that he can no longer dent his sister's cranium, tell him it's time for a snack, bath, walk, game, etc. Just make sure that you're not desperately trying to replace one bad behavior with another. Sometimes kids need to have tantrums, it's that simple. Don't plead with your child to behave, just matter of factly go about your business until your child is ready to communicate appropriately. There are a few important things to consider before setting limits. First and foremost, it's important to set age-appropriate limits. Toddlers, for instance, aren't capable of understanding the same rules and regulations you would set for teens. Start young with realistic limits and raise the bar as your child grows. Remember, for positive parenting, you are your child's first teacher. If you don't model good behavior, you can't expect your child to behave appropriately. Set limits, and consistently enforce them, fairly and in a way that allows your child to feel loved and respected. Parenting is hard work, but the respectful, and respected, adult your child grows into will be worth all the work.