I was born in the late 70’s and recall family member’s saying, “Children should be seen and not heard” or “…because I said so” or my all-time favorite, spoken in a whisper through clenched teeth, “When I get you home…” Thirty plus years later, parenting protocol and limit setting has changed drastically. Punitive punishment is unacceptable in mainstream society, and words like: “NO” became taboo when speaking to children. However, setting limits and boundaries for our youth is important for their growth and development as they move through childhood and adolescents into adults.
Our world has changed in many ways since I was a kid, and so have the parenting styles and approaches. In our society we have limits, we have stop signs, red lights, late fees, sorry we are closed signs etc. As parents and caregivers, it is our job to teach children about so many things and often times we have to say NO! Safety is always the most important limit we have to distinguish to young children, but we also show our kids how to have nice manners, good listening ears, inside voices, kind words, gentle hands, regular bedtime and screen limits.
Bottom line: Children will push the limits and disregard your boundaries! It is their job to do this! It’s actually a good sign and shows they are seeking independence and understanding how they relate to their external environments.
Stay calm, consistent and creative… There are many creative ways to say no or distract unwanted behavior. The most important piece is to be consistent. If you say “NO”- It has to mean “NO”… (no matter what), no matter how much crying, screaming or tantrums ensue… Keep your word. If not, you are only reinforcing that when you (adult, grown-up, parent, teacher, or caregiver) say no… it really means to the child: Show me enough negative reaction and wear me down (preferably in public) until I say YES…! Don’t fall for the trap! Just say No in a calm and confident voice, mean it and move on. Another great trick I learned is to really keep the adult emotion neutral. Children are very emotional and when parents or grown-ups react with an emotional response it feeds into the child’s tantrum and upset. Find your inner calm voice and be matter of fact!
Example: Creative way to set a limit, without actually using the word NO. Parents/Caregivers- Make good eye contact and get on your child’s level.
Child: “Mom, can I have a play date with Jack, today?”
Mom: “Oh, You want to have a play date with Jack?” (when you mimic or mirror your child’s request, they feel heard- Empathy)
Mom: “Ok, I think a play date with Jack sounds fun. Let’s talk to his mom and see when we can arrange it.” (Shows you care and want to arrange it)
Child: “But I want to have a play date TODAY!!!! PLEASE. PLEASE. PLEASE.”
Mom: “Oh, Sweetie, I know you want to, but we have to plan a play date. We already have plans, but why don’t I send a message to Jack’s mom and we will see when we can do it this week. Who did you sit next to at lunch today” (Change the subject)
Child: “I sat next to Sarah.”
(Now if the child protested and starts to react negatively, the parent’s job is to stay calm and remind the child that that response is unacceptable and if he wants a play date with his friend he has to have… nice manner etc.)
For more information on saying no or setting limits, please feel free to email Ali with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org!