By Melissa Ford
Setting limits would be easy if, after you laid out the rule or established the boundary, your child would thank you instead of pitching a fit!
Imagine inviting your son to clean up his room. In a pleasing, good-natured manner he replies, "Sure, Mom. And while I'm at it, can I vacuum and dust your room, too?" Or you query your daughter about the completion of her homework. With great enthusiasm she responds, "I've finished every assignment for the next three weeks!"
We can fantasize, but the reality is most parents find setting limits a challenge, especially the "follow-through" part.
We've all established limits and before the words escape our mouths - our little ones (or big ones) are whining, complaining, crying, pestering and generally, making life miserable for everyone. Feeling your resolve crumble in the face this maelstrom of unhappiness, it's moments like these where it seems easier to give in, keeping the peace, rather than standing by your limits.
Every parent has set limits and caved in
Whenever I've wavered on a boundary, eventually backing down in attempts to stop the onslaught of discomfort, I knew it was only a temporary fix. Taming that three-headed beast of unhappiness (whining, crying, and relentless nagging) was short-lived, because it was only a matter of time until something else would require my limit setting skills.
The choice was always there: Do I stand by or give in?
If you make the decision to stand by your rule, it helps to commit in two ways:
(1) Decide ahead of time that you are willing to follow through (i.e., take action) and enforce the boundary regardless of your child's unhappy responses, and (2) most importantly, get clear about the real value behind your limit.
I once heard a wise woman say, "There are 15 different ways to do something right!"
I'd like to add, there are 15 different ways to "follow through and take action," depending upon your style as a parent and your child's personality. Do you negotiate an agreement or buy-in? Take time prior to setting the limit to explain your rationale? Withhold something your child values if s/he fails to adhere to your limit?
Whatever your approach, you have to be willing to stay the course, otherwise your child knows that "you're all talk and no action!" So how do you walk the walk?
There's a secret: behind every limit is a real value.
Once you uncover the real value behind a limit - enforcing your rule and staying comfortable gets easier. Why? Because you shift your focus from why you shouldn't set the limit to why it benefits you and your child if you do.
Here's how it works: Let's say you want your child in bed by 8 p.m. Teeth brushed, books read, lights out, all tucked in!
Before you establish this new bedtime rule (especially if you feel shaky about enforcing it), write down all the reasons your child will benefit if you set this limit and follow through. Consider what s/he will learn when you establish the rule and comfortably follow through. What messages might you send to your child? Write down as many reasons as you can such as:
- She'll be well-rested tomorrow.
- Getting enough sleep is important for a growing child.
- We'll get along better instead of battling over bedtime.
- Kids with structure feel more secure and happier.
Now, list all the reasons you will benefit by setting this limit and following through. How does this boundary help you? Does it make your life easier? Is there something you'll learn by following through? Write down as many reasons as you can such as :
- I'll have time at night for myself after my child goes to sleep.
- I'll learn how to face confrontation and stay comfortable.
- I'll be teaching my daughter how to follow rules.
- My daughter will learn whining and crying doesn't help her get what she wants.
Review all your reasons and identify the one that stands out as the biggest benefit, whether it's for you or your child. You've just identified the REAL VALUE behind your limit.
For some children adhering to boundaries isn't a problem; for other kids, they will give you a run for your money. Being clear about the real value, allows you to feel comfortable and sure as you set your limits and follow through. Establishing boundaries is a caring and loving act of kindness because rules provide structure, teach lessons, and instill values so kids feel secure, loved, and supported.
Give your child the gift of standing by your values rather than giving in to his/her unhappiness.