Imagine you are super excited, you have a ton of energy and you’re running around the house being your cute, goofy, wild little self. And then someone tells you, “STOP”. How do you feel? You probably feel shut down, at a loss, sad, ashamed…
When we set limits with a hard “no”, especially when this comes with parental anger or negativity, children start to perceive themselves as “bad” and go to that place of shame and self-hate, when this is a repeated pattern.
Setting limits is a necessary part of parenting. These little people are learning how to be in the world and often they don’t know how to pump or fully apply the brakes when something isn’t a good choice. Setting limits is a way that our children learn to make better choices. Children learn self-regulation through appropriate limit-setting. They can learn to set their own boundaries and to redirect their behavior. Now this doesn’t mean to start setting limits all over the place. Set limits when it’s necessary and allow the flow and creativity when you can.
So how to we set appropriate limits?
When our kids misbehave, it’s actually an opportunity for us to learn more about them, understand what they’re expressing about their emotional world, and to help them foster a deeper, more connected relationship with themselves—if we can support them in handling it well.
For example—the child who hits his brother or peers when he’s angry is telling you that he needs help learning how to manage his anger in safe, healthy ways. The child who sneaks a cookie when she’s already been told no — another impulse control issue— is telling you that she needs some support in waiting our her body’s impulses. This information is important for you to know because it gives you direction on what you can be working on with your child in constructive ways.
So how do we set limits when children are misbehaving? It has to start with connection. Disciplining children isn’t about punishments or consequences for them to “learn”. Those things don’t teach—they suppress and quite honestly they usually make children more frustrated, which comes out later in other ways. It misses the mark on what is being expressed by the child and doesn’t give them that full opportunity to be understood, met and redirected in safe and healthy ways.
Discipline actually comes from the word “disciple” which is rooted in learning. We’re helping our children learn that it’s safe to be them, their urges are normal AND that we’ll help them learn other ways to express what their wanting/needing/learning. We need to connect with their emotions and really become detectives for what the child is trying to communicate with their misbehavior. And then we address is from the place of connection.
So, little billy who hits his brother… it could be something like, “Woah! I can see that you’re frustrated and I get that! Brothers are not for hitting. Let’s take some time apart and I will come in and talk to each of you about this.”
I also love the phrase, “Show me another way.” When our children act out their emotions in those ways that can seem like “bad behavior” we can say, “Sweetie, I get it. You’re feeling a lot right now! It’s ok to feel upset—and I’m not going to let you break that—show me another way!”
When you need to set a limit with your child, really check in with yourself first… do you need a moment to regroup, release your own triggered emotions and get to a place or regulation? Then consider—how can I connect first, and then redirect the behavior? How can i use this as an opportunity to understand my child better? How can this help us grow as a family?
If you need help with limit setting and want to talk more, I’ll be soon offering some amazing courses on this and I offer one-on-one parent consultations to support you with your family’s needs.