One of the biggest challenges as a parent is cultivating a healthy, positive relationship with your children while still setting boundaries for them. Sometimes it’s hard to resist the urge to simply give in to their emotions or demands; for example, you’re at the mall with your child and you sense a tantrum coming and you desperately want to avoid it, or you simply hate the feeling of your child being angry at you. This is normal.
However, a vital part of your child’s development is learning how to control their impulses. They may want that toy, but what they want more is a happy, loving relationship with you, so slowly they learn self-control. In this way, they learn self-control through the limits you impose.
But how do you set limits effectively while ensuring that your child is growing and happy? Here are several tips.
Set boundaries with empathy
Research has shown that children develop best when we set necessary limits, but do so with empathy. Make sure you begin with a strong, supportive foundation with your child, so she knows you’re on her side. See the situation from her perspective and express genuine sympathy while setting the boundary. View life from her point of view and only set the limits that are necessary. Having too many limits breeds frustration; you want her life to be more about discovery and connection than restrictions.
Don’t be punitive
Try not to punitive; setting the limit is a sufficient way to show your child correct behavior. Anything more than this can backfire, as kids may perceive your actions as unfair and rebel. Research shows that when you try to control kids through punishment, they will respond with anger and resistance (as adults do too). Without empathy, limits are seen as purely punitive; with empathy, children are more likely to follow our guidance. So, for example, show your kids that you understand that they want something and that it’s not bad to want it, but they still can’t have it.
Sometimes setting limits can seem like punishment, but it’s important how you frame it to your child. For example, say your child was running at the pool and he would not listen to your repeated attempts to make him stop, and ultimately you had to leave the pool and go home. Your child may see this as punishment, but if you say “It was too hard for you to stop running around the pool, but this can hurt you and maybe other people too, so we had to leave. Soon, you will be able to stop yourself from running, and we can stay at the pool. We can come back and try again next week.” He’ll still be upset, but he will see that you’re on his side, and that remaining at the pool is something he can control.
Resist the urge to do too much for them
Always remember where you end and where your child begins. When you see your child struggling with something, it’s easy to get anxious and step in and help them. While this is necessary and helpful sometimes, boundaries can get blurred this way. Your desire to jump in and help is rooted in anxiety; you worry about his ability to succeed in something, whether it be in school, sports, or behaving appropriately, so you feel like intervening will improve the situation, rather than letting your child resolve the situation himself.
However, as painful as it may be for you, your child needs to learn to push through disappointment, or resolve a disagreement with a friend, and so on. Parents should of course help guide and teach their kids, but you should also let them fight their own battles when it’s appropriate. This is also a way of respecting their boundaries.