How to Set Limits that Work: 3 Proactive Strategies for Setting Limits in Your Home

Setting limits that work is a hard thing to do! Stop reacting and start setting proactive limits with these 3 strategies!

     How do we set limits for our children that actually work?  That is a question that every parent will address over and over again as their children grow.  Empowered Parents consider when they are going to do to set their limits so they can be most effective.  There's a few options:  are you going to set the limits before there is a chance for them to be crossed or while your child is crossing or has crossed them?

     Setting limits beforehand allows us as parents to help children better connect their behavior to the outcome.  When it has been clearly identified beforehand what is expected and what will occur, the follow-up discussion is simplified.  Plus, you already know what you will do and so do your children.  To help set limits proactively, here are three strategies to try out.

Strategy #1:  Using If/Then Phrases

dad setting limit with child

     Empowered Parents embrace the responsibility of helping their children learn to establish cause and effect between their behavior and the outcomes.  This allows children to look at their own thoughts about what to do and evaluate the potential outcomes.  This is an advanced skill that is critical to have in life.  Using If/Then Phrases is a simple, proactive way to start teaching this skill!

     If/Then Phrases are simple to use and incredibly effective.  Let’s look at going to a store, since this seems to be a place that children enjoy acting up at regularly.  Here are some examples of If/Then Phrases:

     “If you start acting up, then we will leave the store.”

     “If you can’t stay next to me while we are the store, then you will be sitting in the cart.”

     “If you behave at the store, then we can stop for a few minutes at the park.”

     “If you start to misbehave at the store, then you will be sitting in the cart.  If you can behave, then you get to walk around with me.”

     As you start to use if/then statements, keep in mind they are not meant to be threats to your child.  Instead, they are meant to outline potential outcomes to help give the child a choice.  When it comes to effectively setting limits, parents often find including undesirable and positive outcomes tends to be most effective, such as the last example.  Giving children as much information as possible beforehand gives them the chance to make a more effective choice.

     Your child is going to test you at times on whether or not you will follow through, especially if this is a new tool for you.  This means there is a chance they will act out at the store or go against whatever limit you set.  When this happens, be steady with your limits and how you choose to enforce them.  Parents often stop using effective parenting tools because they did not see progress in the first few times they used it.  It is the steady use of the tool over time that makes it work.  When your children know what to expect and know that you will go through with it, the testing begins to grow less.

Strategy #2:  Team Rule Setting

family working together

     There is a simple rule that Empowered Parents draw from when it comes to humans and compliant behavior:  the more our voice is heard and included, the more compliant we are likely to be.  You can use this rule as a parent with your children.  Many parents have used this rule to their family's benefit.  The idea behind Team Rule Setting is simple:  get your children involved in the limit and rule-setting discussion!

     Children that have had their voice heard on the rules, limits, and consequences are more likely to comply.  Will it erase it permanently?  Of course not, nothing will.  The Team Rule Setting strategy does increase the amount of compliance and also takes the stress off our shoulders as parents.  Let’s look at a story to illustrate.

     A family I worked with was struggling with their eleven-year-old daughter not walking home from school in an appropriate amount of time.  They took things away, used threats, and even considered changing work schedules to be able to pick her up from school.  She had been grounded, was not allowed to go to friends’ houses, and was unable to get a cell phone that she wanted.  Still, she took her time to get home from school.  Does that sound like your situation?

     These parents decided to trying something new and turned to the Team Rule Setting tool.  This allowed the parents to turn to their daughter and ask questions to hear her voice and ideas to solve their problem.  They were surprised at how quickly she jumped at the opportunity.  The family was able to discuss and agree on a reasonable amount of time she had to get home and consequences for not meeting that expectation.

     The first week the daughter did challenge the new limits to see what would happen.  For the first few days she was several minutes late, but she did follow through with the consequence of doing the chores that were agreed on.  In the second week, the daughter was not late once.  At a later session, because she felt she would be heard, the daughter asked, "what happens if I go several weeks without being late?”  

     Empowered Parents let it be known that you to hear their views, but that it does not always mean that their ideas are what will ultimately be used.  However, like the parents and their daughter in the example above, using all ideas to agree on one idea is powerful.  Let your children be heard, give them the room to speak, and be willing to adjust your ideas based on the input you receive.  Remember, they are more likely to comply with something they helped develop, so use that to everyone’s advantage!

Strategy #3:  The Three-Step Method

kids being kids

     One thing you might run into as you set expectations proactively is that your child does not seem to understand or remember those expectations.  This can be frustrating and can feel like you are back at the start.  This is where the Three-Step Method can be of help to you and your child!

Step 1:  Express your expectations.  Remember, this is before the line has a chance to be crossed.  We are letting our child know what our expectations are, what the line is, and what we will do if the line is crossed.  It is also good to let the child know the positive outcomes, so include what will occur if they follow expectations.  Keep the phrasing as simple and short as possible because going on for five minutes will not help you or your child!

Step 2:  Both you and your child repeat the expectations.  Together, with your child, walk through the expectations and what will occur.  Repetitive?  A little bit, but we learn through repetition.  This also helps eliminate the “I didn’t know” response that we can often get from our children!

Step 3:  Your child expresses the expectations.  Have your child walk through it a third time on their own so you know they understood it or you can clarify any gaps.  Let them guide this step and then get confirmation they are good to go.

     The Three-Step Method sounds like it might take a while, but it can be done in only a few minutes.  Think about it, a few minutes up-front might help prevent a lot more time battling a tantrum or implementing a consequence!

     Laying out the expectations for children beforehand is a powerful tool in the Empowered Parent's toolbox.  It allows children an opportunity to think about their options and what they will do.  It takes the pressure off our shoulders because we already know what we are going to do if they cross the line or stick with it.  Being proactive takes the guessing game out of the equation for parents and children and provides learning opportunities that will strengthen your relationship and prepare our children for the adult world.

If you are looking for ways to make this work for you, 

schedule a call today so you can get started!

Categories: Empowered Parenting