Setting Limits with Kids: Part 2

By Sandra Kermode, M.Ed., Family Coach


If you’re a parent, then you know the trauma of setting a limit that just didn’t go over well. You either cave in letting the kids rule the roost or go to the other extreme enforcing the limit and adding a dose of punishment for good measure.

It’s the worst, isn’t it?

Either way, when all is said and done, we feel out of control, guilty and unhappy, wondering how to find the middle ground.

In the final post of this two part series on limits (Read part 1 here), I share questions to ask before setting limits with kids (as well as after) so everyone keeps their cool. I’ve used these questions time and time again to keep me in check before setting a new limit or after I struggled to set a limit that didn’t go as planned. These questions forced me to be honest with myself (tough one), think outside the box and make changes in the way I set limits with kids.

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GAME PLAN TO SETTING LIMITS PART 2 

My last post touched on the common negative behaviors that we turn to when limit setting becomes emotional. I also shared an activity to help you think about your personal limits and boundaries and get a better sense of your hot button limits.

Maybe you loved the activity until you reached the final question (think of a new way to set a limit that normally propels you into crisis mode) and then thought, “Yeah Sandra, I know that I need to set the limit in a different way and keep my cool, but how do you do that?” Fair enough. I thought the same thing.

That’s why in this post I share questions to ask before and after setting limits with kids that are going to help you with part 2 of your game plan (figuring out how to set the limit in a way that doesn’t end with you caving in or becoming an authoritarian ruler). This is the part where we find that ever so desired middle ground that leaves everyone feeling good.

QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE SETTING LIMITS WITH KIDS 

These questions are going to help you set fair, firm, kind and logical limits. While you can’t be prepared to set every limit in this way, know that thinking through these questions before and after setting limits is going to empower you to make some healthy changes.

WHY AM I SETTING THIS LIMIT?

Understand why you are setting a specific limit. Is the limit for my child’s benefit and/or safety? Is it for my peace of mind or convenience? Sometimes we set limits out of emotion or because that’s how we were raised. Instead, ask yourself if it is a fair and logical limit.

IS THIS A LIMIT THAT I CAN SET CONSISTENTLY?

Know that flip-flopping with limits creates total confusion for children (and adults). If you are going to set a limit, it should be consistent. Also, it’s important that all adults are setting this limit consistently. No parent wants to be the “bad guy” when setting limits with kids. Make sure the “good guy” is on board with being consistent.

IS THERE A NATURAL CONSEQUENCE TO THE LIMIT?

Limits that have a safe and natural consequence create learning moments for children. Of course, not all limits can have natural consequences and that’s okay. Using natural consequences instead of punishments is much more powerful lesson for a child. Instead of an adult imposing a punishment, the situation itself has a natural consequence.

WHAT IS MY TONE LIKE AND LANGUAGE LIKE WHEN I SET THIS LIMIT?

How do you sound when you set the limit? What are you modeling? Calm & composed or emotional & frustrated? How can you phrase this limit in a calm and firm way that isn’t weak or aggressive?

IS THIS LIMIT APPROPRIATE FOR THE CHILD’S AGE AND/OR STAGE OF DEVELOPMENT?

We often set limits or create expectations that are not in line with the child’s stage of development. A great example of this is when we ask toddlers to share their toys. Young toddlers aren’t quite capable yet of sharing their toys when a friend comes over yet we still expect them to. If your toddler can, that’s great, but it’s not a realistic expectation.

AM I USING FEAR, BRIBES OR SHAME TO SET THIS LIMIT?

Fear, bribes, rewards and shame are unhealthy and temporary solutions to setting limits with kids. These methods don’t promote self-discipline but use external reward or pain to get a desired outcome. They leave everyone feeling terrible. If you find yourself doing this while limit setting, stop and walk away. It’s better to leave in dignity and return to the issue when all parties are feeling calm.

IS THERE A FUN WAY TO SET THE LIMIT?

In the busyness of the day, we can forget that this crazy life is meant to be fun. I mean why are we doing any of this anyway if we aren’t laughing along the way? Setting limits doesn’t always have to be serious. Have fun with it when it’s appropriate and set limits with kids in a silly way. Some adults use voices while others sing songs. Find what works for you and your family.

DID I OFFER ALTERNATIVES OR CHOICES?

Most limits don’t have to be a firm, “No.” They can be a “No” to one item or activity and a “Yes” to a couple different options. If it’s an absolute no then be sure to redirect your child to a positive activity, so he isn’t dwelling on the limit you just set. “It’s not time to watch TV now…I would love your help preparing dinner. I have some pretty muddy potatoes that need scrubbing.” Engage your children in something purposeful that makes them feel responsible and good about themselves. 


QUESTIONS TO ASK AFTER SETTING LIMITS WITH KIDS 

After setting a limit, you can ask yourself:

HOW WAS MY LANGUAGE AND TONE?

How did you sound when you set the limit? What language did you use? Did you stick to the game plan? If not, why? Reflecting back on a situation is powerful and is a great way to make positive changes for the future.

DID I ALLOW THE CHILD TO EXPRESS HIS EMOTION?

Limits are important for kids and parents- here are the questions to ask.
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This is a huge one. Often, we don’t want to hear children cry or whine or to see them upset after we set a limit. This is a part of life though. Don’t be nasty about it, but it’s important to allow children to feel, without getting involved. Be empathetic and listen. Once a child has a moment of calm (if crying or whining) then engage him in a positive activity. Don’t let him dwell in the negative for too long.

Know that all your hard work and reflection as an adult is going to pay off MASSIVELY. You’re going to see less tantrums and improve your relationship with your kids. You’re also modeling how to set limits in a healthy way and that is an invaluable lesson.


Sandra Kermode | Family Coach | Setting Limits with Kids | Boundaries for ChildrenSandra Kermode is a Family Coach and helps parents and kids feel more purposeful and connected. When kids and parents feel purposeful and connected, your family feels happy & whole. She gives parents real everyday changes they can make with one-on-one guidance, so they can redefine their relationship with their kids in a way that works for the whole family. To see how you can work together and if video coaching is a fit for your family, contact Sandra. For more posts like this and ideas & inspiration “to keep in the sunshine”, sign up for the newsletter.

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