You know the scenario all too well. Your toddler pulls his sister’s hair, with a big smile on his face. Your older child won’t stop whining about getting in the bath or needing just one more story before bed. It can be very frustrating when our kids repeatedly challenge the boundaries we set, making us wonder…is it really worth the effort?
Parents and caregivers must be in charge in order to create a secure and stable environment for kids! It’s essential that this space be one in which emotions are validated, while at the same time, children are encouraged to develop patience and self-awareness. Boundaries and structure are essential for kids to flourish, and this is why.
1. Boundaries allow kids to feel safe.
No matter how much kids act as if they want to be in charge, having too much power is scary. Secure, consistent boundaries that are set and monitored by parents and caregivers create predictability for children, which reduces anxiety. Remember, enforcing these boundaries does not make you “mean” or “unfair”, even if your kid says that to you! When your little one tries to negotiate bedtime, they feel they have more power than the adult, which alters the child’s sense of security.
2. Boundaries provide a sense of order.
Kids are more likely to cooperate when they know what’s required of them, so have rules in place similar to “wash hands before eating” or “hold my hand when we cross the street”. Predictability is key!
3. Boundaries prepare kids for the real world.
There’s nothing wrong with a little it of struggle! It’s how we mature and learn to problem solve. If parents allow kids to be “in charge” and constantly remove any struggle for them, they are doing them a disservice. Kids will always expect things to be easy, and that’s not how the real world is! Remember, it’s okay to expect your kids to help you clean up toys before bedtime, or to behave at restaurants. Setting boundaries helps them develop the needed skills to be successful later in life. Don’t send them off to college without being able to do a load of laundry!
Okay, so now you know WHY. Wondering HOW to set effective limits and help your kids cooperate? There are three simple steps you can follow.
Take a moment to figure out what is going on. Are your expectations unrealistic? Does your child need more information or help? Maybe they don’t know they’re doing anything wrong! If information doesn’t change the behavior, then a limit needs to be set.
Move in close, stay calm and stop the behavior. This may mean placing your hand on a kicking foot or a hitting hand. Acknowledge their feelings, “I see you’re angry that we have to put the game away”. Tell them, “I won’t let you hurt me”.
While holding the limit, listen to how your child reacts, whether it’s through crying or tantruming. The goal is to stay close and calm, reassuring your child that you still love them. You will find that after working through these feelings, your child is more cooperative about the boundaries and limits set.