Q: [All Ages] What are the best ways to set limits and consequences with my children?
A: Rules make modern life possible. Without restrictions on how we use common resources, communicate, and work together, a civilized society could not exist.
Your family unit is a miniature reflection of the greater social structure. Setting healthy limits and establishing consequences is necessary for families to work well together.
Limits are guidelines for expected behaviors. They teach children how to act in various situations. Telling your toddler to put candy wrappers in the trash rather than on the floor is a limit. Consequences are the events caused by an action. As a consequence of throwing the wrappers on the floor, your toddler will not be allowed to have any more candy.
Be as consistent as possible. Age differences, disabilities, and other challenges make it difficult to hold every person to the same standard. Expectations may need to be adjusted for individual ability levels. You may not expect your three-year-old to clear the table after dinner like the eight-year-old, but he can help gather utensils and plates.
Lead by example. Children are experts at detecting hypocrisy. If no food is allowed outside of the kitchen, how will you justify eating a sandwich on the couch? Emphasize family unity by being the chief rule-follower.
Explain the limit’s purpose. Older children will appreciate the time you take to talk about the benefits of their limits. Tweens and young adults are more likely to stick to an established boundary if they believe it’s for their own good.
Regulate behavior, not emotion. Children are people too. Like adults, they have good and bad days. Allow them to feel disappointment, anger, or sadness. However, their feelings should not be an excuse for disruptive behaviors.
Deanna Cupo has a Masters degree in Social Work from Salisbury University. Currently, she is a therapist working in a school-based environment working with elementary school-aged children and their families.