LIMIT SETTING PART THREE: LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES

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When setting limits for children, the most important thing is follow through and logical consequences.  I am not talking about angrily banishing them to time out.  It is so important not to let behavior get to the point of angry, arbitrary consequences. Instead, aim to use logical consequences.  

A logical consequence directly relates to the action. Basically, it is a consequence that makes sense in the scope of life. It is not an arbitrary punishment.   

EXAMPLE: It is bedtime. Your child is dawdling and thinking of every last excuse. They are taking an eternity to apply toothpaste. You are counting the minutes until lights out when you can have an actual moment to yourself.  You ask your child to please hurry and they can sense the desperation in your voice, which of course, only makes them that much more invested in taking their own sweet time.  

Parent (calm and NOT desperate tone):  C’mon lets get those teeth brushed. The faster we move the longer we can have for books.  The clock is telling me that we can have 15 minutes of reading if we get into bed now.  I’m worried that if we don’t finish up now, there won’t be enough time for all three books you want to read. 

Child still dragging feet…

Parent:  I’ll brush my teeth while you brush yours.  (this usually works…until it doesn’t.) 

You brush your teeth and your child’s and she is stiiiillll taking forever.  You see the pile of three books on her nightstand that you were planning to read together.  It is already 7:10 and you planned for lights out at 7:15.  You sense a tantrum that you don’t want to deal with right now, but you also know how important follow- through is.  

Parent: Tonight we spent most of our time in the bathroom instead of using it for reading and cuddling.  The clock is showing me that there is only time for one book.  Which one will you pick?

Your child might freak out…. Here’s what you do:

Parent (Neutrally, but emphathetic): I know! You are so disappointed that we only have time for one book.  Which books will we save for tomorrow night? (get a paper and pen) I am going to write a note to us for tomorrow night, reminding us to hurry in the bathroom.  I’ll also remind us which books we are saving to make sure we get to read them then.  Let’s hang this note in the bathroom so that we remember for tomorrow.  

Giving this visual representation- even when they cannot read- shows our children that we value their thoughts and experiences.  It also shows them that you ARE ON THEIR SIDE.  

Your child might still fuss and cry, but that’s okay.  They are doing their due diligence.  Children need to make sure that these limits are truly in place and that we really mean what we say. 

I know, I know.  You were not in the mood to deal with this behavior.  But guess what? Setting consistent limits will reduce this behavior in the long run.  (There’s probably a statistic out there- google it! ). Dealing tonight will buy you many future nights of peaceful bedtimes. Setting limits and sticking to them will not solve our short term problems.  They will serve the larger picture.  Enduring a tantrum or three during the process of instilling limits for our children is WORTH it.  It is good for you and great for them.  It ensures that later on, when the stakes are higher, you can trust that your child will adhere to boundaries. 

Here is another example of what to do when you sense that things might escalate:

Your child is starting to whine and get irritable.  It is close to snack time. 

Parent: Oh my goodness.  We better get you a snack, pronto! Remember that time after the park when we waited too long to feed you and your got so mad and sad? You screamed and cried and then we missed music class because it took so long to calm down and eat.  Let’s not let that happen again!!  Would you like apple slices or a banana? (Obviously insert your own real anecdote about a hangry meltdown.)

In this example, you’ve recalled a previous experience that your child can draw from.  You must stay completely neutral, as you don’t want them to feel defensive.  You do want them to learn from what happened last time and the logical consequence that occurred because of it.  You are BOTH still learning.  

While your child is eating and feeling better, you can say:  Wow, I am so glad we ate snack before anyone started feeling cranky.  Yay! We can go have fun at music class.  I wonder who we will see there today?

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I”ll tell you story about my own family.  When my oldest was a baby, he loved his baseball cap.  He wore it everywhere.  In fact, he often slept with it in his crib.

Every summer, when we go to the beach, I insist that the children wear hats to cover their little faces.  With Nate, it was SO easy.  He always kept it on.  Well… along came Ruby, my middle child.  No-go on the hat.  As her mom, I knew how it important it was to keep that sensitive toddler skin OUT of the sun, but I could not/ would not spend the day fighting with a three year old.  Not fun for anyone and we go to the beach to have fun.  

Limit: If you really don’t want to wear your hat, play under the shade of the umbrella.  If you do wear a hat, you can play out in the sun and at the water’s edge. It is totally up to you.  

You want to go for a walk with Daddy and the other children? Oh wait, get your hat!

You don’t want to wear a hat? That’s fine.  I can sit near the umbrella while you play underneath.  

Neutrality is KEY and not inserting your frustration will make this process much less painful on both of you.  

When she tested, I would say, “It is my job to keep your skin safe and healthy. You can decide if you want to stay under the umbrella or under the brim of your hat.  That is my rule and I will not change my mind.”  

When Ruby wore her hat, I would say, “I am so glad you chose to wear your hat! There are so many fun things to explore on the beach.  What will you choose first?”.

Did this work right away? NO.  But after spending much of the morning testing whether I meant it or not, she understood the logical consequence of not wearing her hat.    

Now that they are older, I tell the kids that they can either reapply their own sunblock every hour or they can wear their hat. When they protest, I still bring up the time Ruby had to stay under the umbrella and no, she does not think it’s even a little but funny.  To this day, my Ruby will still sometimes hang under the umbrella instead of wearing a hat. 

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I know it can feel embarrassing setting limits like this in a public place like the beach. It is SO much easier to shrug off unwanted behaviors and go with the flow.  But you know what feels even worse? Having a sunburned child.  

 People might look at you like you are rigid.  They might question your parenting.  When Nate was a toddler someone at the playground saw him adhering to a limit that I set. 

She said, “Wow.  He must be really scared of you.  Look how fast he came back when you told him to.” 

It could not be more opposite.  I love my children so much that I choose to set clear and consistent limits.  It is with great love that I offer my children the comfort of knowing that I can help them safely take risks in life by setting developmentally appropriate limits.  There is nothing scary about it. When I see children wildly tantruming and running away from their loved ones with no regard for safety, I think that those children must be scared.  I feel so much compassion for child and parent.  They are both scared and out of control because no one is in charge.  Parenting is hard. So, so hard.

Does your child run from you on the crowded, busy street? That would tell me that she is not ready to walk and must go back in the stroller whether she likes it or not. 

“It is my job to keep you safe.  You are still learning to hold my hand and stay close to me.  Today you will ride in the stroller, so that I know you cannot run from me.  Tomorrow we can practice holding hands and walking together.”  

After the stroller day, on the try-again day, remind your child of yesterday. Speak to them respectfully about the experience. Maybe it feels better to them to ride in stroller. Maybe not. Ask them when the mood is calm.

Guess what, YOU know your child best.  Not me, not their teacher or their grandma. YOU know what you want for your family in the long run.  When my children were small, I was firm and very clear about my expectations. Even when I was side-eyed.  Want to know what happened…?

My kids grew up.  Setting limits became simpler and just a part of the fabric of our family life.  They’ve learned to work within the framework of our family.  They care about getting to school on time.  They are (mostly) responsible, contributing members of society who I can take places on my own.  I already did the really hard work regarding limit setting and so did they.  This frees us to be able to take trips to the city.  It enables me to travel alone with three children for weeks on end.  Is it still hard? Absolutely.  But because I know I can trust them when I need to, it is enjoyable.  

This is not a one and done thing, and my family is FAR from perfect. Sometimes, I lose my mind and yell and rattle off arbitrary punishments (I usually apologize after).

Like most important learning experiences, setting limits is an ongoing practice. 

You guys, I still need to remind them at times. Here is a recent example:

 Last year, I got to the beach with all three kids.  They were whining and complaining.  They were barely helping me.  I sat all three of them down and reminded them that we are a team.  I said, if you choose to continue fighting and whining, we will leave.  Fighting and refusal to help shows me that the beach is NOT a good place for you (or me) right now.  One child continued to fall apart.  So we left.  

We reloaded all of our beach stuff back into the car and I took three very angry children home.  I sent them all  to their rooms for quiet time.  We ate our packed beach lunch on the deck and then played in the back yard.  I stayed as neutral as I possibly could.  I did’t blame anyone or say, “I told you so.”.  Clearly, I was annoyed and they knew it, but my actions spoke for me. I didn’t need to lose control and neither did they.

What did they learn? There are logical consequences to their actions.  What else did they learn? To help one another out.  If one child is having trouble that day, the other two need to pitch in and support her.  Even though we missed a beautiful beach day, we gained a summer full of mornings where they eagerly helped out.  They gained an understanding that I need them to help me and each other, as well as behave reasonably,  or it won’t work.  

When I feel like I am on the same team as my kids, I WANT to take them on adventures.  When they are all getting along and listening, we can all do more.  When they help out, they make my job easier.  They learned that making my job easier benefits them.  


I am always saying to them, “If you all pitch in and take the garbage out, walk the dog and straighten your rooms, I can pack the lunches and the towels and get us all out of here faster.  If I do all of that stuff on my own, I will be cranky and tired, and I won’t want to take you to the beach.”

Does this make sense to you? It does to them.   It is a lot of work and certainly won’t win you any popularity contests… but it will help you enjoy raising your children.  

If you take nothing else away from this post, please know this: Setting limits makes parenting more enjoyable.  Getting really clear about boundaries and rules allows you and your children more freedom.  It gives you and your children confidence to take risks, laugh and enjoy family life.  It is okay for your children not to be happy all the time. It is important for them to feel the real consequences of their actions, even if it is uncomfortable for them and for you. 

If you are still with me, THANK YOU for reading this entire post.

Want more? Go back and read these:

Limit Setting Part One

Limit Setting Part Two

Thank you for reading this post. Remember, this is what works for me and my family and you should adapt it to what works best for you.

Lizzie