It’s been two weeks since Spring Break and in our house, some of the limits and boundaries that lapsed (as they tend to) during the holidays are still lapsed! I notice it, my children notice it and my sanity, or perhaps lack thereof, certainly notices it. Bedtime springs to mind…….
It is a firm belief of mine that children need limits and boundaries because they are essential to healthy emotional development and well-being. Parents tend to set limits around things that reflect values. For example:
- If your children getting plenty of sleep and being well rested is a value to you, you are more likely to set limits around bed times
- If eating meals together as a family is important to you, then you are more likely to set limits to ensure that you have family meals together
- If your kids spend lots of time playing games on their devices and you don’t like it or value it, you are more likely to set limits on screen time
Having limits helps to guide our children, offer them a sense of security and comfort and teach them to develop the capacity to be able to live within them, a very basic but essential life skill. They also help to develop many other skills such as the ability to delay gratification and to tolerate frustration. Children need to learn these skills first within the confines of their own homes so that they can then apply them in the community and in relationships with their friends.
I believe that children have to learn to accept that in life there are limits. For example, when the bell rings at school, they have to quit the game they were playing or they might have to leave a party before their friends. Children need to be able to cope with perhaps having a limit set on the amount of candy they can eat or having to switch their iPad off when their time is up and the sooner they are able to cope with living within limits, the better off they will be to get on with life without feeling hard done by or resentful.
“Research has shown that one of the main factors involved in adolescent dysfunction is a lack of firm limits. Adolescents don’t yet have the required pre-frontal skills to make sound judgment to consistently and appropriately regulate themselves. They need to have limits set for them” – Madeline Levine
How to set limits that work?
- Be practical in applying them. If the limits are going to require too much “policing”, they quickly become a burden to enforce and won’t work
- Be consistent. For example if you have limits on screen time and one day allow your child to play for as long as he wants because you perhaps need to get some work done but the next day expect him to only play for the set amount of time, it is not really fair to expect him to take the limits seriously
- Use consequences. Consequences that are known in advance tend to be more effective because then your child knows what will happen should they choose to ignore the limits. For example with screen time, if your children ignore the time limits set on using devices you must apply the designated consequence which might be losing the amount of time that they went over by the next time they play or losing screen time for a certain number of days. The consequence is up to you but the key to consequences being successful is being consistent in applying them
- Discuss limits and consequences at your family meeting. This way, your children can have input to them and if they have done so, are more likely to buy into them
- Be firm but kind so your children learn to respect the limits and take them seriously
- Be prepared to be flexible but only when there is no other way around it
- Use the S. E. T method of communication where S stands for Support, E stands for Empathy and T stands for Truth. For example you could say to your child “I know how much you love playing on your iTouch and that you really don’t want to stop playing but the truth is you have ignored the time limits we set together and therefore have chosen the consequence which is no use of your iTouch tomorrow. I understand how frustrated you will be with your choice but that’s it.”
As children get older and their responsibilities increase, the limits may change and perhaps naturally start to become less restrictive as they are able demonstrate that they can manage their own time and lives and become more mature, responsible and capable. However, they still need limits, we all do.
I’ll leave you with this question: Which 17 year old boy do you think would be more likely to adhere to observing speed limits when he has just passed his driving test? The one who has been given the opportunity to develop the capacity and tolerance to accept limits and live within them as a child or the one who had few limits set as a child and often got his own way?
How do you feel about setting limits, what has worked for you? I’d love to hear from you.