Why It Is Important To Set Limits With Kids

Published on June 11th, 2021

Updated on January 3rd, 2024

Why It Is Important To Set Limits With Kids

These days, parents can subscribe to a number of different parenting philosophies. Online courses and experts abound, as does the growing scientific research around child development. Limit-setting is a topic that transcends philosophy, course or the newest ideology. Children are delightful but also immature, impressionable human beings. It is the job of the parent or caregiver to slowly shape this endearing (and often maddening) immaturity into maturity.

In the same way a road-worker paves a roadway with concrete, guardrails and traffic signs, we pave the path of maturity with instruction, discipline and loving protection. In other words, if we want our children to grow into responsible, caring and capable adults with whom we have real, respectable relationships, we must set limits.

Effective Limits are Thoughtful Limits

It takes many facets to ensure traffic flows smoothly on the freeway– much more than a thoroughfare with a random stop sign or two. Imagine the pile-ups! Similarly, limits are more than “no!” or “stop!” or “because I said so!”.

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Limits certainly can include those exclamations, but one would be remiss to call limit-setting simple.

I’ve observed “bad behavior” in children is frequently a consequence of their own immaturity gone haywire. Sometimes children are defiant, mean-spirited or manipulative.

Limits can effectively address those cut and dry behavioral problems. Many other times, children are untrained, unaware or have difficulty regulating their own emotions. It’s in these instances that limits require more thoughtful and careful deployment.

In this article, we’ll examine limits from these two fronts: limits as instruction and limits as discipline.

Superhero Kid

Limits as Instruction

What if four times four wasn’t always sixteen? Or, three times two sometimes equaled six, but sometimes twelve depending on a teacher’s mood? Would the multiplication facts be worth memorizing?

Knowing the times tables eventually allows a child to build a geometry proof or solve an algebraic equation, but a child’s motivation to learn foundational skills will wane with fickle instruction. It’s hard to expect algebraic logic in ninth grade from a child who wasn’t taught fundamentals in third grade.

1. In the same way, resolve that parental instruction requires consistency

Consistency, in turn, requires a disciplined, hard-working caregiver. Kind, responsible behavior is built slowly and steadily over time—there is no magic wand. If the home’s standard is kind and calm speech, the first line of instruction is the caregiver’s own speech style.

An arithmetic teacher who can’t add isn’t worth much to her students.

An overwrought and verbally exasperated caregiver is less help and more hindrance to the child. For example, when siblings start yelling at each other, the caregiver can instruct with firmness and kindness but must not yell back. The caregiver or parent should make kind communication a value in your home. Media that elevates harsh or crude talk needs to be cut out. Praise and positive reinforcement needs to be given for effective communication.

2. Name the behavior you are correcting

Instead of an aggravated “Cut it out!” it may be more effective to say “You both know yelling and name calling isn’t something we tolerate, I need both of you to change your tone.” The second correction is respectable, instructive and models mature communication. It’s unreasonable to expect mature confrontation and communication skills in teenagers if their earlier years were marked by yelling, abrasive commands with the occasional, albeit inconsistent corrective instruction.

3. Failing to follow instructions requires consequence

Let’s return to our arithmetic analogy. A student who answered the times tables incorrectly gets a failing grade. If the instructor inconsistently graded and incorrect answers sometimes passed, the motivation for excellence is low. When a child defies instruction, a consequence should follow.

Limits as Discipline

The word discipline stems from the root word “disciple” which means to teach. While the corrective nature of training and instruction entails the transference of information or values, it’s another skill set to discipline a child in such a way that the instruction becomes a way of life. Good students, or good disciples do just that, don’t they? They make what they’ve learned a way of life. With dedication and precision, they follow the footsteps of their teacher.

To instill discipline, capture the hearts of your children. We capture their hearts by spending time with them. After more than a decade of working with children and families, one thing holds hard and fast: children want the company and connection of their parents

Empower yourself to be your child’s most present and available teacher. Parents often experience toddlers “wanting to be like Mommy or Daddy” while they precociously traipse around in Mommy’s high heels or Daddy’s tie. Your power to impress and their capacity to impersonate continues through most of childhood yet few take advantage of this window to instill strong values.

Watch how children begin to make the positive behavior patterns you teach them their own when you walk with them step by step instead of expecting compliance from the removed, preoccupied and distant stance that so invades our busy home-lives today.

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