practicalkatie

Why You Can (& Should) Set Limits With Your Kids

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Allow me to be the first to admit that I don’t have a ton of “rules” in my house. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I talked about rules. What I do have is expectations. My kids know this because this is the way it has always been. I expect them to be kind, compassionate, and empathetic. I expect them to help each other out when one needs help, and I expect them to work things out peacefully when they disagree. They know that they can count on me for support 100 percent of the time, even if support comes in the form of encouraging them to work through something difficult on their own. 

In my house, the word “no” isn’t used very often. This isn’t because we’re perfect or we have it all figured out; it’s because the limits we set early on created a foundation that still holds up. Sure, my kids have heated moments when they can’t agree on what to play, but instead of screaming about it they talk it out or come to me to help them brainstorm. If someone is overwhelmed and has a meltdown, we all rally around that person and give hugs and kisses use calming words until the emotions are released. We always work together to get through the hard stuff because that is one of our expectations.

There’s a theory floating about that the vast majority of young children are entitled, spoiled, and accustomed to getting what they want the moment they want it. Some feel that the rise of technology is to blame while others think “modern parenting” is a flop. I tend to disagree with all of it. I see some amazing young children in my practice who face great odds but persevere. I see teens making a difference and standing up to the negative side of technology. I see parents seeking help because they are burning the candle at both ends and they don’t want to yell, feel frustrated, or give in. 

Testing limits is part of childhood. Kids are curious little beings and figuring out how far they can bend feeds that curiosity. Sometimes it works out in their favor. Other times they learn not to bend quite so far again. Testing limits can be frustrating for parents, however, and that frustration can result in yelling, saying “no” constantly, and other negative parent-child interactions. When the parent-child relationship becomes blanketed in negativity, everyone loses. 

The key to to avoiding a negative interaction cycle in the home is to establish (and maintain) healthy and age appropriate limits. Here’s how:

1. Instill healthy habits. Kids are happier, less stressed, and less likely to experience frequent meltdowns when they have a consistent bedtime routine. Adequate sleep is essential for children. They can’t make up for it by sleeping in on Saturday. They need a consistent routine. School age children need 11 to 12 hours of sleep each night. Make that happen to reduce frustration, anxiety, and overall grumpiness. Kids also need to learn healthy eating habits, but with so many kids running from activity to activity, this can get lost in the shuffle. Slow down to prioritize healthy habits. Make the time to cook and eat together. Your child doesn’t need to play three sports this season, but she does need to learn how to take care of her body and nourish her soul.

2. Stop making threats. No one likes to feel threatened. I’ve seen some complicated rewards systems created by parents, and I’ve heard stories of parents stripping their child’s rooms of everything fun. And you know what? It doesn’t work. The cycle of negativity continues. 

3. Remind kids of your limits and expectations often. One mistake I see over and over again is that parents outline a bunch of house rules and then hope they stick. When the expectations aren’t met, frustration takes center stage. “How many times do I have to tell you…” is a frequently used phrase in parenting, and yet it holds little value. The truth is that kids do need frequent reminders. That’s part of being a kid. Kids learn and grow at a very rapid pace. They are bombarded with new information on a daily basis. While they can and do internalize the expectations of their parents, they are likely to make mistakes along the way. They are human, after all. 

4. Keep an open dialogue about your expectations. The kid down the street watches TV every afternoon but you only allow it on weekends? Talk about it. Explain the benefits of less TV watching. Your child’s best friend stays up until 10 p.m. but your limit is 8:30 p.m.? Revisit the importance of sleep. Family meetings are a great way to talk about limits and share concerns. Just last week my kids and I had a lively discussion about what it means to disagree in a respectful manner. I want my kids to argue their beliefs, but they have to do it with kind voices and respectful words.

5. Be consistent. Routines work because kids know what to expect. Sure, life requires flexibility at times, but kids crave stability. When they know what comes next, they don’t have to stress about it. For years I had bedtime and morning routine lists posted on bedroom doors. This gave my kids the ability to work through their routines independently. Now that they’re older, I have a two-month wall calendar in the kitchen that tells them what is happening on any given day. Whatever your limits, but consistent. Sometimes I fall short around the holidays, and I always regret it after. This year, we worked together to remind each other to get enough rest, have enough downtime, and make healthy food choices. It was the first time in years that no one got sick. Consistency works. 

6. Stop trying to control everything. The one thing that parenting will teach you over and over again is that you can’t control everything. You can have a super clean house, but you won’t spend much time with your kids. You can have kids with perfect grades, but stress might very well be the result of that. You can plan the crafty play date, but your kids will probably end up making mud pies. When parents learn to give up a little control, everyone thrives. Kids become independent and responsible and parents find themselves spending less time feeling stressed about getting everything right. Healthy limits and boundaries create a positive interaction cycle in the home while reducing overall family stress. That’s a win-win, if you ask me.

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Photo: Getty