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  • Cari Sans, Coach & Therapist

Are you a waffle or a tree?


Let’s talk limit setting with children today. Yes, all the fun stuff about parenting. In reality, when we set clear, firm and loving boundaries we will make parenting more enjoyable--even fun. Well, maybe not at first if you have not been clear.

Your child will push against that limit and test you to make sure you are serious. They want to know if we are really holding a safe space for them. They are not consciously thinking this but they are wired to need our guidance and limit setting is the vehicle.

Setting limits may mean saying No to your child, but it does not always have to be. Setting a limit can look like, “You may drive your cars on the floor (as opposed to on the painted walls).” It may be you touching your child gently to guide them to the floor or moving the cars to the floor for them if they demonstrate they are not able to do this on their own.

Your child may cry, whine or whale in opposition to this limit. Should you give in? Absolutely not! Here is when I ask you, are you a waffle or a tree? If you waffle in your decision and not follow through, your child will not understand that limit and not take you seriously. “She is saying to play on the floor, but if I cry she will let me drive the cars on the wall,” says your child inside his little head.

When setting a limit, be firm and grounded like a tree. Your child needs to know you are there to protect him. Be firm but loving with your limit. For example, “Johnny, playing with the cars is a lot of fun, we will play with the cars on the floor. Cars are to be played with on the floor.”

WARNING…..whatever you do, DO NOT say, “Ok?” at the end. That Ok at the end is waffling. Your child is probably thinking at that point, “I like driving on the wall, so I am going to keep doing this…it is fun.”

Here are some tips:

  • Decide if this behavior or action needs a limit.

  • Clearly, calmly and firmly set the boundary with your child—get down to your child’s level and look them in the eye or touch them with a hand on their shoulder.

  • Physically & gently direct them if needed.

  • Follow through-give it the time it needs which may mean letting go of your agenda for the time being (i.e., cooking dinner, getting somewhere, etc...).

So, in helping create certainty, love and growth for your child, be conscious to set limits that are firm and loving. More importantly, follow through with your decision. Sometimes things get worse before they get better, so stand your ground and you will see your child respond much better over time.

Best wishes!


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