How to Set Limits with Your Children

  • Setting limits is an alternative to threatening and punishment. It is one of the most powerful tools that parents have for providing discipline for their children. Knowing that there are limits on their behavior helps kids feel safe.

    There are two important things to know about setting limits:

    1. Setting a limit is not the same as giving an ultimatum.
    Limits are not threats. "If you don't clean your room, you'll be grounded."

    Limits offer choices with consequences. "If you clean your room, you can go out with your friends. If you don't clean your room you can't go out with your friends. It's your decision."

    2. The purpose of limits is to teach not to punish.
    Through limits children begin to understand that their actions, positive or negative result in predictable consequences. By providing choices and
    consequences, parents provide a structure for good decision making.

    Here is a five-step approach to limit setting from the Crisis Prevention Institute:

    1. Tell your child the behavior you want.

    Saying, "Stop that!" may not be enough. Tell your child exactly what you want her or him to do. Be specific.

    2. Explain why the behavior is inappropriate.

    Don't assume your child knows why his or her behavior is not okay. Is it disturbing others? Being disrespectful? Not doing what you asked?

    3. Give reasonable choices with consequences.

    Tell your child what her or his choices are, and what the consequences of those choices will be. Make sure that the consequences are reasonable and something you can and will enforce.

    4. Allow Time

    It is best to allow your child a few moments to make his or her decision. Remember that if he is upset, he may not be thinking clearly. It may take a minute or two to think through what you have said.

    5. Be prepared to enforce your consequences.

    Limit setting will not work if you don't consistently enforce the consequences you've set, even when it is inconvenient.

    Limit setting is a powerful tool for teaching children proper behavior. The purpose of limit setting is not to show who is boss, but to give children guidance and a feeling of security.