SF Counseling Center

Gentle Limit Setting for Parents

Mindful Limit Setting

‘No’ can mean different things at different times in a child’s life.  For a two -to- five year old, it can often be an expression of burgeoning independence.  You don’t want to squelch that do you?  What do you do?  In the scenario, “No!  I don’t want to go to bed!” what is a parent to do?  Give your child a choice (but not a choice of whether or not to go to bed).  You cannot plead with your child, as you will have already lost.

By accepting your authority and understanding your child’s developmental task of asserting him- or -herself you can create a win-win. You can frame the situation, “Tell you what, you have a choice.  You can go to bed and have me read to you, I can tell you a story or you can go to bed on your own.  Which would you like to do.”   “I don’t want to go to bed!”  “That is not one of the choices.  Here are the choices …..(again).”  Limit setting does not have to be difficult.

Accept Your Own Authority

Parents are often worried about damaging their child.  For many, asserting oneself, representing authority can be seen as harsh or even damaging.  Yet, part of the job of being a parent is being the authority.  For some parents, this is a new developmental challenge, as they may not have seen him- or herself as an authority figure.  Yet, as long as you as the parent can accept your own authority (meaning being sure of yourself, and therefore not overly harsh or punitive and not too easily swayed), this can fairly quickly come to be a way of smoothing out power struggles.  Children developmentally are trying to have a voice and to know they have some agency.   As a parent, you want to foster those characteristics, but perhaps not at bedtime.