Most parents are way more conscious and sensitive than ever before. For example, we aren’t near as likely to bark out orders to our children and disregard their feelings. And old parenting defaults such as children being expected to be seen but not heard have fallen out of favor.
However, in becoming gentler, more conscious parents, we have often lost our way in one of our pivotal roles, that of our child’s most important leader.
Imagine you are in an altercation with someone in a public place that deteriorates into a shoving match.
We all derive a sense of security from knowing that police and other security personnel exist in order to help keep us safe. Imagine how we would feel if a police officer came by, tells you both to stop shoving, but then stands there and does nothing to enforce the limit he or she set?
Would you feel safe? Of course not! We count on people in leadership positions to make choices, set limits and then to take action to make us safe. In this example, the police officer completely failed to do his or her job by setting, but then not enforcing, a limit.
One of the most common mistakes I see
Often times when I’m coaching parents, I find that they are turning themselves into pretzels, verbally setting limits but not enforcing them. As a result their children learn to ignore the verbal limit as experience has taught them that it won’t be followed through. And the parents frustration levels rise, their confidence plummets, and anarchy prevails.
One of the most common parenting mistakes I see is parents setting, but not enforcing limits.
No one is served when we don’t set AND enforce the limits our children need.
All of us test limits. Most of us have got speeding tickets in our lives. If we hadn’t, and we didn’t know anyone who had, we’d speed if we wanted to, right? Your children are the same. Limits are boundaries, and if they aren’t enforced, it can be argued that they don’t exist. Would you believe that a speed limit existed if no one enforced it? It would only be a limit in theory, or in law, but not in reality.
So how can we enforce limits?
Here’s a great example of how to set a firm limit with a toddler.
Recently a coaching client had a toddler who was irritating everyone else in the family by going over to the tv and playing with the volume and channels while they watched. Nothing the mom said stopped her son from what to him was a fun game.
The fix is surprisingly easy, and has lasting results in other areas of your child’s life.
I told her that the next time that she could afford to take some time setting the limit, to physically get in between him and the tv and tell him no, you cannot touch the tv. It is important to be firm but gentle, and to empathize with your child about how much you see that he wants to do what you are blocking him from doing.
The first time you do this, expect your child to have a massive tantrum if he is used to getting his way. Sometimes your child will test you a few more times, but usually the first time you set the limit causes by far the biggest tantrum.
Once you’ve set a limit like this once, you’ll find your child to be more compliant in other areas as well. Limits make a child feel safe and loved. And they help teach your child how to adjust to the world, which is one of the most critical skills for lifelong success.
Next time your child is stuck doing a behavior you are clear needs to stop, think about whether it is something that he or she needs a limit set AND enforced. Most parents do set the limit, but aren’t clear how to enforce it.
If you want help with how to apply a limit to your situation, share your situation below.
If limits have been an issue for you, and/or you’ve been setting limits but not enforcing them, I hope that this post helped a light bulb go off for you. Next week I’ll share the steps to setting effective limits.
Where are you at?
How are you at setting limits?
Do you have ambivalence because you don’t want your child to get hurt, or because you didn’t understand how critical limits are?
Is your living house proof that anarchy makes no one happy?
Learning to set firm but loving limits is one of the most important shifts that you can make. We’re in a world where most parents are flop between being the too harsh, brick wall parent or the permissive, jelly fish parent, when our children desperately want and need firm but gentle leaders.
Don’t be hard on yourself though! I can teach you how to find the powerful middle ground. We are parenting in crazy times, and yet you are here, learning hope to find sanity. Kudos to you. Your children are lucky.
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