One of the ways that I express to my children how much they mean to me is by showing up for them again and again. Especially when it is hard and uncomfortable. Setting limits for our children is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. In part two of this three part series on setting limits, I am sharing a few real life scenarios and some language to go with them. Of course, these are strategies that work well in my own family. Take it as you see fit and adapt it to fit the needs of your children and your family.
Limit Setting with Children
Mom: “In five more minutes, it will be time to stop playing and come inside to wash hands for dinner. Choose a last thing to do or finish up what you are working on.”(5 minutes pass) “Five minutes is over and now it is time to stop playing and come inside for dinner.
Child ignores mom.
Mom bends down to make eye contact. “Please stop your hands from collecting rocks and walk inside with me. I will help you wash up.”
Child resists, “NO!!! I'm not finished. I need five more minutes.”
“Now is time.”
Child cries and stamps feet in protest.
Mom says, “You really wish I would give you more time, but I am not going to. Dinner is warm and now is time to come inside. Even if you cry and yell, I am still going to bring you inside for dinner.”
It is okay for your child to cry and protest. It is your job to remain as unflustered as you can and to carry on with what needs to happen. Letting your child know that you are in charge and that you will take care of them, no matter what, is the important part. This might be hard and uncomfortable for both of you at first. Plus, it’s just plain embarrassing when your neighbors see you carting your flailing child inside. Stay calm and centered and know that we have all been there. You are doing what’s best for your family. You are providing clear and consistent limits with follow through.
Your child is running ahead of you on the sidewalk on your way to the park. You are okay with it. She knows that you are comfortable with her a few feet ahead. You've already already practiced where, when and how to stop when it is time. You see your child nearing the corner and you clearly and firmly tell your child to stop and wait. Your child is daydreaming and excited to get to the park. She doesn't stop, but continues walking around the corner. In a firm and controlled voice, you say, STOP NOW. You catch up to your child and hold her hand the rest of the way to the park. Your child is upset. She didn't mean to disobey you and she doesn't want you to hold her hand all the way to the park. She was enjoying her new-found freedom of walking a few feet ahead. Your child cries and pulls away. You hold her hand more firmly and offer to pick her up. You explain, "It is my job to keep you safe. When you do not stop the second I say stop, I know I need to be touching you to keep you safe. I can carry you or you can walk holding my hand. Even if you cry and even if you wish I would let go, I am not going to. I am going to hold your hand until we are safely at the park. You can try again on the way home.”
It is okay for your child to cry and protest. It is your job to remain as neutral and unflustered as you can and to carry on with what needs to happen. Letting your child know that you are in charge and that you will take care of them, no matter what, is what is important. It is one hundred percent your job to give your child the opportunity to practice walking ahead, messing up, feeling the consequence and trying again.
Your child is tired. The school day was long and dinner cannot come soon enough. You offer your child a bag of carrots but he wants a lollipop. You say, "Here are some carrots, I know how hungry you feel and it is going to take me a few minutes to get dinner together." Child (shouting, eyes narrowing, feet stomping), "NO! I want a lollipop. Give me a lollipop!” Child melting down. You say, "You are so hungry and you wish you could have a lollipop and I am saying no. I am leaving the carrots here on the table. If you change your mind, you are welcome to eat them. I think they will give you energy and help you feel better." You walk away to make dinner. Do not engage with the tiny terrorist! When kids are really hungry, or overtired, they can’t take in what you are saying or doing. They are in sensory overload. It is best to just provide what they need, stay nearby, and move on with what you need to do.
It is okay for your child to cry and protest. It is okay for them to yell and scream and express themselves. They are supposed to. Healthy homes are messy and loud and sometimes chaotic. But you know what? It is your job to remain as unflustered as you can and to carry on with what needs to happen. Letting your child know that you are in charge and that you will take care of them, no matter what, is what is important. They need to know that no mater how hard they struggle, you can still man the ship. You can still be their safe, consistent, reliable anchor.
Revisit the incident AFTER the fact, NOT in the moment:
I usually try to talk to my own kids the day after the incident. In a light tone, I will say something like, "Remember yesterday when you really wanted a lollipop? You really wished I would give you one, but I didn't. That's because it is my job to feed you healthy food to help you grow. Maybe you would like to have a lollipop after lunch today, instead." This kind of conversation allows your child to process what happened, as well as the opportunity to talk more about it if they want to. It also shows them that you are not angry with them for resisting.
Some key phrases to try…
“I am the grown-up in charge, and that’s what I decided.”
“It is my job to keep you safe.”
“Even if you cry, I will not change my mind.”
“I love you even when you are screaming and kicking.”
“I am still learning about being a mom and you are still learning about being a child. It is okay for both of us to make mistakes.”