How Parents Should Set Limits For Kids

As adults, when we see a misbehaving child, our instinct is to grab for the carrot or the stick. The problem with this model is that it changes the child's focus from the problem at hand to the adult, which is counterproductive. No kid wakes up in the morning and thinks, "I'm going to disappoint my teachers and parents today." Every kid wants to behave. They just don’t have the skills yet. So the more we can give them real ways to participate in a meaningful way, the better. When my daughter, Ava, was two or three, she hated putting on her car seat seat belt. She would buck forward so that we couldn't physically get her into the seat. Finally, we decided to name her 'The Seat Belt Captain' who was in charge of making sure everyone was buckled in before car would move. Suddenly, she was the first to buckle, and then quickly point out: "Daddy, you don't have your seat belt on!" The older your children are, the more they can give input into the discipline solution, and then they're much more likely to go along with whatever the consequence is. They also may come up with more severe consequences than you as the adult would have. They are really creative and don't always have the sense of proportion that we do, so you can be the good guy and say, "Oh, no. That seems too extreme." "Why don't we just put the toy away for a week if it's left out?" If your children are willing to participate in discussing and setting limits with the consequences, that's great. And if they're unwilling, then you may have to set them but always give them that opening. Children actually want limits. They feel that they know what to expect if you've told them ahead of time. So as long as limits follow the four Rs rule, which is that they're revealed in advance, they're respectful, they're reasonable in scope, and they're building responsibility in the child, then all you have to do as an adult is follow through with the consequences you've agreed to in advance. Sometimes, we don't even have to be the bad guy because the agreement speaks for itself. For instance, simply pointing towards the backpack left on the floor and saying, "Backpack...." I've found that this takes so much heat out of the process of parenting. I'm no longer in charge of making sure my kids are perfect. And when you're not in the role of disciplinarian or controlling boss, you can just relax and enjoy your kids.

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