Wondering why limit setting with your child isn’t working?
The other morning at playgroup, a little boy kept running up to his mom and punching her. It was a light, somewhat playful punch. Repeated over and over again it seemed quite annoying too. All this mom really wanted, was to have a conversation with a friend. You’ve been there right? One of those morning where you just need a friendly chat to brighten your day? Well, this little boy had other plans.
Plans that looked an awful lot like misbehavior.
Hoping distraction might buy a bit of time the mom said to her little boy:
“Go find a truck.”
But the little boy PUNCHED his mom instead.
“What about that kitchen? Want to cook something for me?” she said this time.
“Hey, bring me that puzzle?” implored the mom, her voice cracking a bit in frustration.
The little boy walked away and a bit of tension lifted up. But it was ever so temporary.
Because the little boy came back 30 seconds later.
The pause in punches had been just long enough for mom to think distraction had worked.
But sure enough that little boy came back with Punch! Punch! Punch!
Feelings boiled and Things Escalated Quickly
“STOP Bugging ME FOR HEAVENS sakes!!!!” yelled out the mom, now clearly frazzled and very annoyed.
Tears, tears and more tears came from the little boy.
Sighs, sighs and more sighs came from mom.
“I just wanted to have a conversation, is that too much to ask for??”
The Missing Piece To Setting Limits that Stick
I understood this mom at playgroup. I’ve totally been there. Opting to distract in hopes of getting a short little break.
But distraction is usually unclear – especially if we don’t say what we mean.
Not saying what you really mean when you need to set a limit leads to struggles. To speaking unkindly. To feeling overwhelmed.
Failing to be clear with personal boundaries can only lead up to feeling worn out.
If you don’t say what you mean, you invite button pushing. You overlook your needs. And the needs of your child. You ignore those early signs that boundaries are being crossed and emotions are bubbling up.
It’s just not helpful. And saying what we mean is the simplest, even if not the easiest, way to keep personal boundaries and yelling in check.
Saying what we mean in a kind and clear way is so much more helpful than employing distractions or avoiding setting a limit. Pretending to be ok with something only to blow up sets everyone up to feel badly.
Setting a limit in a kind and clear, way, and before things get out of hand is really important. In this example from playgroup, the mothers intention was kind. It didn’t work because it wasn’t clear. Good limits need to be kind AND clear. Distracting and not saying what we really mean is just not hepful. Or respectful.
It’s not that distraction can’t work, but more often than not, distraction is a very short lived solution. Also it isn’t really saying what we mean or need. Distractions without clear limits are an invitation for tantrums and power struggles.
“Go get a puzzle” was actually supposed to mean “I don’t want you to punch me.”
“Check out that kitchen” was code for “I’d like you to go play on your own while I talk to my friend.”
There isn’t anything wrong with wanting some time to talk to a friend. It’s more than OK to encourage children to play alone. And when our intention is to actually set a limit, it’s simply best to actually do that. Say what you mean. Use clear limits.
What do clear limits sound like?
- “It bothers me when you punch my arm. I want you to stop.”
- I see you need me. I need one more minute to finish up. You can find a toy or wait.”
- “I see you punching me. I don’t like that. And I want you to stop.” And here you can place a hand kindly over your child’s hand to be even clearer.
- “We are going to cross the street, I want you to hold my hand.”
- “It’s brushing teeth time.”
- “Homework comes before screen time.”
- “Slime stays in the kitchen”
- “I will wash anything from the hamper, not what is left on the floor.”
- “Rocks stay in the garden.”
It’s important to use clear requests so that boundaries don’t get pushed too far.
So that communication is respectful and helpful. So that yelling and repairing doesn’t become the go to dynamic but only the occasional one. So it doesn’t feel like you are bouncing from one button pushing moment to a power struggle, to yelling and repeating this day in and day out.
Of course perfection is not expected or necessary, but stating clear limits by saying what you mean reduces so much stress. Not just for you. It also makes things clearer for your child. Children may challenge your limits. That is ok. With kind and respectful guidance, your child will learn to face these moments of upset, to weather the storm and to find creative solutions!
Limits set with kindness and respect also help children accept and understand boundaries.
If a limit is truly important, then it’s best to set it, in a timely, kind and clear way.
The missing piece to setting respectful limits is often forgetting to say what you really mean when you need to say it.
So, do you say what you mean when it comes to setting limits? Can you think of a time when instead of saying what you meant, you distracted, avoided or waited too long to set a limit? I’d love to hear what your experience is with setting limits or anything that you struggle with when it comes to limits, button pushing and power struggles. Tell me in comments, or come chat with me in our Parenting Q&A group on facebook.
Peace & Be Well,
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