Positive Parenting – Setting Limits for Our Children

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Tammy Sassoon 

The emotions and thoughts we experience when we set limits for our children influence the limit setting’s effectiveness or lack thereof. Our children know if we feel calm or anxious, if we believe in their ability to accept authority or not, if we feel stressed or at ease. It is actually very exciting because we can choose to think proper thoughts, which lead to healthy feelings, which lead to healthy interactions with our children.  

Weak Limits 

Mom and Sammy walk into a grocery store. Sammy asks for an ice cream. Mom knows that dinner is in an hour and the extra sugar is really not necessary. Mom feels that treats like ice cream are best saved for Shabbat, birthdays, or special occasions, but she also feels that she is too weak to say “no” because Sammy often carries on when he doesn’t get what he wants and she is not up to dealing with his potential reaction. She says, “Sammy I would rather not…. we are eating dinner in an hour and you really don’t need the sugar right now.” Sammy sensed Mom’s lack of confidence and answers, “But you bought my brother Joey an ice cream last time you went to the store with him.” Mom gives in and buys him the ice cream, and says, “Just this once, but usually we don’t just randomly buy ice cream an hour before dinner.”  

Mom gave Sammy what he wanted, but it was not coming from a confident place. Sammy learned that Mom is wishy-washy. That can’t be a good thing for Sammy. When we give our children anything in life, the healthiest vibe would be, “I would love to give this to you,” stemming from a proactive thought of, “I gave it some thought and decided that this is what is best for my child at this time.” 

Strong Limits 

When Sammy asks for the ice cream, Mom says, “Not today.” Sammy says, “But you bought my brother Joey an ice cream last time you went to the store with him.” Mom answers, “Thats’s true. Why are you telling me that?” Sammy says, “Because if he got I should get too.” Mom answers, “You are one cute kid.”  

Now, if Sammy and his mom have been in a pattern of him demanding and her explaining, Sammy might continue with the comments and it will take some time for him to see that his mom is adopting a new, healthier way of responding. He might add, “Come on, just this once, please!” Then Mom can say, “Sammy, I see you really wish the answer was ‘yes.’ I am asking you not to ask again.” You’d be surprised how quickly children listen when we give them an exact instruction on what to stop doing. Stay consistent, and within some time, children learn Mom’s new dance. 

The Confidence of “Not an Option” 

Did you ever notice that a little three year old stops asking for food in a store when Mom says, “No, it’s not kosher.” The reason the child stops asking is because they sense Mom’s confidence on this. The toddler knows from experience that Mommy isn’t budging on this. I noticed something similar happen with one of my friend’s children when he wanted his mother to drive him to a bike store. He was begging and pleading and she kept on weakly saying that she really can’t drive him because of this and that, and that he should please try to be more understanding. Then, when she found out the store actually had closed for the day, voila, he stopped begging BECAUSE HE SAW IT’S NOT AN OPTION. Next time, before you say no to your child, ask yourself, “Is this really not optional?” Because as long as your child sees what they want in his or her mind as an option, he or she will continue with the begging dance. 

Balance Limits with Love 

Of course, make sure to balance your effective limit setting with lots and lots of love. Pay attention to what your kids like. Sammy’s mom now knows that ice cream is his treat of choice. The following Sunday, she can surprise him with an ice cream “just because.” That will send a message to him that she is tuned in to what he likes and she cares about him, and that she wanted to give him something because she enjoys giving to him.