What if my kid doesn't follow the limit we've set?
Updated: Nov 7, 2021
You're trying to work with your child to set limits based on the values you have in your family. Most of the time this has set you up for success, everyone is clear on the expectations. But what about when the child ignores the limit or tells you, "NO" in the moment?
Here's where so many parents get triggered and fall back into old patterns. Either power over parenting, "You WILL do what I say, or there will be a consequence / punishment" OR power under parenting, "Okay, fine. But next time..." No judgement here. I've fallen into both of these dynamics. These are patterns that have been passed down through generations, AND there is another way. A way that holds the limit (you don't lose), and the child is treated with respect, love, and kindness (the child doesn't lose).
How does this work?
It starts with understanding boundaries and why they're important, setting limits based on your family values, and being proactive setting expectations ahead of time with your child. This will make it more likely that you won't need to enforce anything.
For those that worry that when your child doesn't "listen" in the moment, it means you are a bad parent. I have good news! We should expect that our kids are going to test our limits. They want to know if we mean what we say. This is developmentally appropriate as they figure out how the world works around them. And they're going to test more than once.
For those that worry that enforcing the limit will hurt the connection you have with your child, I have good news! Our kids want to know they can trust us. When we follow through on our limits, they also know we'll follow through when we promise them something fun and exciting. It feels safe, when we enforce the limit in a respectful way.
So how do we do we enforce the limit with love, respect, and kindness?
We follow through on what we say we're going to do. For example, if the limit is around screen time, then we turn off the screen at the agreed upon time, or after the agreed upon episode (here's more information creating agreements). If the limit is that it's time to leave the playground when the timer goes off, you go over and take their hand as you say good-bye to the playground. If the limit is no hitting, you gently block their hand from hitting.
They may be angry, sad, or frustrated when you do this. They may cry, complain, or stomp. Feelings are good. This is the part where you may get triggered, because you are angry, sad, or frustrated since you did all the "right" things, our brain loves to tell us all sorts of crazy thoughts in these moment. Start with calming yourself, then provide empathy for your child. Name what they're feeling,, and give a yes.
"You feel SO SAD that TV time is over. You'll get TV again tomorrow."
"You feel ANGRY she took your toy. Tell her, 'I was playing with that'."
"You feel sad it' time to leave. I'm sad too. I love playing with our friends. Let's plan a day to come back next week."
If your child is younger, or they're open to listening you can try to direct to something else. "Let's go get dinner ready!", or if they are still too upset to hear you just let them know you're there. You can offer a calming tool like a hug, a sip of water, or to race them. This shows them that they are seen and heard, their feelings are valid, AND they can trust their parents.
If you're still not sure how to do this with your specific family dynamic, that's okay! It's a new way of parenting for MANY parents. I've helped others come up with a specific plan for their family in a 30 or 60 minute problem solving session. If this way of parenting is REALLY new to you, or you've been trying to read the books and articles and implement what you've learned but you just feel stuck in your old patterns, my 12 week Ultimate Parent Success Course can help you shift generational patterns, and move from fear and control based parenting, to parenting with confidence and connection. Click the links to learn more!