Our kids are smart. They really know how to manipulate us into getting what they want – crying, whining, nagging, having tantrums, giving us the silent treatment. It can be overwhelming. In my last podcast we were learning how to use choices early to avoid power struggles from the get-go. In this podcast we’re going to follow along that positive path by using another technique that is a companion to choices – setting boundaries and limits.
Sometimes, without realizing it, we put our kids in the driver seat. We think they know what they should do, and by golly, they do the opposite. Take eating dinner for example. We put them at the table and give them food. We expect them to sit and eat it. However, after 2-3 minutes they hop on out of their seats to get a toy to play with. We, in an effort to make sure they don’t go hungry or become malnourished, run after them with a fork or spoon to try to get them to eat another bite. Or we put them back in their seat with threats and yelling but it happens all over again. So frustrating, right?
Or how about your child playing on electronics? You tell them they have 30 minutes to play a game and they never get off. If they do, you’ll find them sneaking some extra time in here or there.
Why does this happen in our homes? How do we get it to stop?
Kids Need Rules
It’s been pretty well documented that kids do better in life when there are safe and loving boundaries, but boundaries have problems.
- Boundaries are Undefined
- Boundaries are Too Flexible
- Boundaries have Too Much Negativity
- Boundaries have no Consequences
- Too Many Boundaries
How to Set Good Boundaries
- Define the Boundaries
Be up front! If something is important to you then even be willing to write it down and explain it if you need to. Make a poster. Make a list of family rules!
- Electronics are charged in the kitchen
- We brush teeth twice a day.
- Backpacks belong in the mud room.
- Make it positive!
I love how Love and Logic calls boundaries “loving limits”. You want to tell your kids what they CAN do, not what they CAN’T do. Removing that air of negativity from your home as much as possible is such a breath of fresh air and helps to combat our negative tendencies.
- I serve snacks to children who have washed their hands.
- I let kids play computer games who’ve finished the dishes.
- Kids can play with daddy when he comes home from work who have picked up all their toys.
- You’re welcome to ride your bike with a bike helmet.
- I read books to kids who are ready for bed by 8:15
- I help kids with their math homework who are treating me with respect.
- I drive kids to soccer practice who have their gear bag packed.
- I let kids drive a car who are paying for half the insurance.
- Have Consequences
If you’re using positive statements, then there is usually an implied consequence. Like kids who don’t do the dishes, not getting to play computer games. Or kids who aren’t ready for bed by 8:15, won’t get books read to them. Kids need to know what will happen if they choose to disobey you.
- Be Consistent
This is a tough one for lots of parents. If you set a rule, it needs to be followed through on. Saying that you serve dinner from 6 to 6:30 then you only enforce it 70% of the time because one kid has been up and down getting in and out of their seat and hasn’t finished their dinner yet so you’re worried they haven’t had enough to eat, sends the message that the rule isn’t the rule. The kids aren’t even confused, to tell you the truth, they know you’re just kidding when you set a rule, that you have no backbone and your rules don’t need to be obeyed. If dinner really ends at 6:30pm, you need to end dinner. If you’re kids aren’t supposed to be riding bikes without helmets then, if they do, you need to lock up the bikes which is such a natural consequence to their choice to ride without one.
- Be Reasonable
I mentioned that it’s great to make a list of Family Rules but be careful not create so many rules that the kids feel they don’t have choices and will start to rebel. It’s best if you can incorporate ways for our kids to have a feedback loop especially when setting up new rules as your kids grow. I did a podcast on Family Meetings and that is an amazing place to set and review Family Rules. It’s podcast #17 if you want to go and review it.
- Be Calm and Loving
When letting our kids know about the limits we have, we need to state them calmly using love and empathy and we need to respond to them in the same way if we get grief from them. “I don’t want to wash my hands!” or “That’s a stupid idea, Mom!” might be responses to your positive, calm requests. If that happens, which I’m sure it will, use empathy and love and the classic “I knoooooowwww” in a boring but loving tone. Kids aren’t going to like every limit we set. Your remaining calm will bring peace to the whole process. You can always talk with your child at later time to ask for feedback if you get too much grief but not in the moment when their emotions are activated.
That’s basically it. Use limits in a loving way and you’ll avoid lots of power struggles with your kids before they start. Choices will help give them some control over things you don’t care about and adding loving boundaries and limits helps smooth out communication as to what is expected in our homes. Using words with positive and loving actions seals the deal to helping your family grow in a positive and healthy way.