A Guide to Setting and Maintaining Limits (especially during COVID-19)
When your kids are pulled from their regular day-to-day routines, it is normal to see increased limit-testing. As a parent trying to make it through the day - balancing parenting, homeschool, and maybe even working from home - this can feel incredibly defeating.
But here’s the thing: even though setting limits is hard (and can be exhausting), children WANT and NEED limits. Children need limits to feel safe and secure. Limit-testing often comes from a child feeling unsafe or unsure of their environment (like in this current situation, when their entire routine has been suddenly upended). When children feel unsafe or unsure, they test to see where a specific boundary actually lies because deep down they are looking for that boundary - they want that boundary. It is our job to give them limits when necessary.
If you’re looking for some guidance on setting and maintaining limits at home while also holding on to your sanity, you’re in luck! Here are our top limit setting tips.
Be purposeful. It can be very easy (very, very easy….) to want to feel like you need to set limits around everything going on in your home, especially when everyone is cooped up all day, every day. The challenge with this is that an overabundance of limits can cause increased rebellion and limit-testing from your kids. I encourage you to step back and think about which parts of your day truly benefit from clear, concise limits and which don’t as much. Knowing that it’s not realistic to set limits for your kids all day long, be mindful about when you chose to do so.
Example: let’s consider screen time. Maybe it’s important to you that there are certain times of day where screen time is an option for your kids, but there are other times of day when it’s not a choice. Know when you want to allow this as an option and when you know you’ll want to set the limit and tell your kids, “TV/iPad is not a choice right now. Instead, you can choose to do X or Y.”
Be clear. Communicate limits with your kids in a developmentally appropriate way. For younger kids, this may look like a visual schedule or chart. For older kids, have a conversation ahead of time so they know what to expect and when. Being proactive and communicating expectations BEFORE you need to reinforce a limit can help set everyone up for success in the long run.
Example: find a way to communicate with your children, “Before breakfast you can watch a television show. After breakfast, your choices are to build with blocks or do an activity.”
Be compassionate. When you are working to set a limit that is important to you and your household, avoid getting angry or explosive; approach your child with compassion - they may not like the limit you are setting, and that is okay. Use clear, concise language and a calm voice. Hold the space, allow your child to be frustrated if they want to be, and be the calming presence they need in that moment.
Example: validate your child’s feelings but remain firm by using language such as, “I know you want to watch a show, but that is not a choice right now.”
Be consistent. If you give in even one time when your child is testing a limit, they’ll never let you forget it :). Consistency is the key to communicating an expectation to a child. If you give in sometimes but hold firm other times, this only confuses children. When children know what to expect, they are more likely to comply.
Example: if television is never an option after breakfast, never make it an option. If your child continues to ask for a show after breakfast, remain clear, compassionate, and consistent with your language to remind them that right now, TV is not a choice.
Remember, YOU are in charge. With child requests (ahem, demands) being thrown at you left and right, it can be a struggle to remember that you, in fact, are the parent and you are allowed to hold firm limits when you need to. Remember, if your child is unhappy with a limit you are setting, that is okay! They are allowed to feel frustrated or angry. But, don’t let that deter you from being clear, compassionate, and consistent. Remind yourself that even through their anger, kids need (and want) limits.
If you’re ever really struggling with limit setting, check-in with yourself and see if you are hitting all of these checkpoints. Change what you may need to change moving forward, and take it one moment at a time. You’ve got this!