Positive Parenting: What it Takes to Set a Limit with Kindness

Positive Parenting: What it Takes to Set a Limit with Kindness

Setting limits can be done in a kind, firm and non threatening manner.  The thing is, sometimes it can be tricky to find the balance between kindness and permissiveness.

I really find that having limits, particularly with three children is really important.  Wanting to set a limit without provoking any sort of upset sometimes is impossible, especially in a family situation when you have the needs of everyone to keep in mind and balance. So,  I’ve found that the biggest chance of setting a limit with kindness, that is still firm and non threatening and also not permissive often boils down to just one thing:


Getting connected first, before the limit, before the explanation or any information relevant to setting a limit, if I simply take a moment to just connect with my child, it  makes all the difference between cooperation or power struggle! This works with my three year old, just as much as with the five or seven year old. It works amazing well with the tots at the playgroups that I work at too. So really, connection before setting a limit works for all ages!  Here is an example:

Recently, at the end of the day, I went to pick up my son from his friends house. They had spent the day together and it was time to go home for dinner. When I arrived, I heard a lot of laughter coming from the sandpit and just knew that my son was going to be a bit hesitant to leave all that fun.  Who would want to leave a sandpit with water and trucks and so much laughter just to have some boring dinner? Anyways, knowing that I needed to connect first to make this work for both of us I sat on the floor next to the sandpit and placed my hand on my son’s shoulder.

“Hi! How is it going?” I asked him.

“Oh so good!!!!! Mama, I want to stay here forever!!!!” was his very enthusiastic response.

“Forever??!!” I replied

“YES!” he said.

“Well, that sounds super fun, AND it’s the end of the day. Dinner is waiting for us at home. So in about 2 minutes we are going home.”

“Oh…no, not good. I want to stay forever! You can’t make me leave!!” he said.

“I hear you. I can’t do forever but you can have…uhm…let’s see, how about 3 minutes instead of 2!”

“Yes, Cool, be ready in 3 minutes!”

When three minutes had passed, I went back to sandpit. I didn’t even say a word. My son saw me,  jumped up, said good-bye to his friend and we were able to leave without any complaints or difficulties.

The more I remember and take my time to set a limit with kindness and connection in mind, the easier it gets and in the end everything works out so much better.  While it may seem more time consuming up front, truthfully it’s much easier to connect with a gentle touch, listen to how things are going and only then introduce whatever limit is needed than to come in, limits ready and set them in stone.  On this particular day, acknowledging that “forever” wish and offering a bit of flexibility really helped both me and my son keep our evening going well, and still be home at the right time to have boring dinner with the rest of the family!

So, when are you most successful at setting limits in a positive way? Do you have questions about how to balance being kind and sticking to your limits at the same time?

Peace & Be Well,



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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

8 Responses to Positive Parenting: What it Takes to Set a Limit with Kindness

  1. Outstanding story! I loved it. I did similar things with my sons when they were little. I always kept calm, cool, and collective. Even when they weren’t..it’s not easy..but it’s something that is so important in developing relationships with children. Positive reinforcement always, or at least NEARLY always works when you are calm, when you work WITH your child, and when you take that little extra time to work with your child. Thanks, Ariadne, I always love reading your solutions. 🙂 Greg

  2. Great message in the article and the length is perfect for me to quickly read and fully understand the message. I have a question that extends beyond my own kids but in a larger setting such as an elementary school during lunchtime in the cafeteria. If the noise level is getting too loud, I’ve often noticed the lunch staff threatening the kids that it’s too loud and they will lose recess time, etc. I’m trying to think of recommendations to give where the lunch staff can “connect” with the elementary kids first and then set the limit (i.e. quiet down). If you have any advice or can point to other articles, it is greatly appreciated! Thank you!

  3. I used to say to my classes, (5-7 year olds), “wow I can hear a lot of busy learning going on in here. I’m having some trouble hearing my group. Please use whispering voices.” I didn’t really realise it at the time but it connected with them and also acknowledged that I understood the noise was due to engagement and was not in itself a ‘bad’ thing. They needed lots of these reminders during the day.

  4. I love this resource and I find these articles are really helping me to reflect. I have one question though. What happens when the limit is set with kindness, but cooperation still doesn’t follow? Specifically sometimes my daughter won’t go to bed, despite choices, time for transitions and kindness and sometimes I am tired or busy and need her to get to bed. How can I enforce the limit so she gets the sleep she needs and I get the rest I need? (BTW we tried a pretty bed yoga routine but she doesn’t want to do it anymore Andi don’t want to force her to). Thanks for any thoughts about this.

  5. Hi Trudie, many children resist going to bed, the end of the day means no more time with mom or time to play is over and well sleeping is kind of boring…some ideas with setting limits with bed time is helping your child come up with a routine that they an take ownership over. So yoga is not an option anymore, what would your daughter like to do before bed, maybe a quiet time in her bed with books, 10 minutes of quiet play with dolls, listening to an audio story that is 20 minutes etc…if you two can brainstorm ideas, make a list and then an agreement that you can both live with chances are you can strike a balance between what your daughter wants and what you need (the limit). hth

  6. Hi Trudie,
    So often children resist doing things that we want them to do, like go to bed, brush their teeth, do homework…usually it is because they have no sense of ownership over those decisions. It sounds like you are already doing so many positive things like giving choices and paying attention to transitions. I wonder if it would be helpful for you and your daughter to make an agreement about bed time, one that also covers some acceptable choices for when she is not quite yet ready to sleep but respect your need for quiet? For example, could your daughter stay in bed with some dolls for quiet play or can she listen to an audio book that is fairly short? Maybe if you two could problem solve together and make an agreement that you can both respect you can both find a compromise that respects both of your needs. hope that helps!

  7. […] Set limits with kindness and follow through. For example, if an sibling is poking the baby simply say “I will not let you poke the baby.”  Calmly, stand between your two children and make it physically clear you are setting a limit. If the older sibling cries, kicks, hits, screams, as a response, limit the behavior but stay present, listen, validate and wait for the storm to pass. If both children cry at the same time, take a deep breath. This moment WILL pass. Sit on the floor, hold the baby and offer to hold your older child as well. (Use your best judgement here as to how best keep everyone safe!)  If your older child refuses your comfort, calm the baby down and then reconnect with the older child when they are ready. Tears and tantrums are not things to be punished or bribed away. Sometimes children really just need to off load a whole lot of stored up feelings. Trust that your child is able to feel all this and come through on the other side just fine. […]

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