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 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?
In my next post about setting limits, I’ll be talking about why punishment doesn’t help us with limit setting. Until then…
Peace & Be Well,
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