Setting limits as a parent | Education Elephant Siteground

By Gillian Martin

Ever found yourself trying to regain control by yelling things like “If you don’t stop fighting over it, I’ll throw that Nintendo Switch out the car window”?

Stop for a moment – that’s just not true, is it? You probably rely on that Switch for a bit of peace and quiet even more than your child does. Besides, it’s you who will foot the bill when the games console does smash off the tarmac. On top of which, your ‘empty threats’ are now just background noise to your kids.

Limits aren’t about punishing kids. They are about trying to keep them safe and help them develop sensible boundaries by setting reasonable limits. So how do we set limits that are effective and are going to encourage responsibility? Here’s a few key points to keep in mind when looking to set limits:

1)      Is it a reasonable request? If two kids are squabbling in the car on the 5-minute journey to school, it’s probably reasonable to ask them to try to get along for that brief time. However, if they’re an hour into a 2-hour journey, perhaps it’s time to stop for a leg-stretch and give them a break from each other, and not a time to lay down the law.

2)      Is the consequence related to the issue? Ideally, a limit should have a natural consequence – something that would naturally happen if that behaviour continued (e.g., if you bite your friends, they won’t want to sit close to you or if you say mean things to someone, they’re unlikely to want to hang out with you the next day). Sometimes we tend to set limits that aren’t related to what’s going on (e.g., “If you say one more mean word to your sister, you’ll have to rake up all the leaves in the garden”). Huh? This can just build up resentment and confusion.

3)      Is the consequence in proportion to the problem? For example, if I deliberately knock a glass of orange onto the floor, it’s reasonable to ask me to mop up the spill. It not reasonable to ask me to now mop up the whole downstairs.

4)      Is the consequence do-able? It’s no use making an empty statement that can’t be followed through on, or the limits you try to establish will just become meaningless. You’re not really going to smash up that Nintendo Switch, are you? Nope – and your child knows that too.

Setting limits that are unfair, unrelated, and out of proportion will only set your child up to feel hard done by and resentful. So don’t see limit setting moments as punishment, but instead use them to guide your kid towards better decision making in the future.


Check out Gillian Martin’s latest course: How to listen so children will talk.