Do you sometimes keep yourself from setting limits because you’re afraid it might have a negative impact on your child? And if I told you that there are positive ways to implement boundaries, would you like that?
We might all agree that a house with some boundaries is a more pleasant house. When you don’t waste your energy in petty fights and drama solving, you can actually spend it on great projects with your kids. Believe it or not, but children can actually listen to their parents, it’s all about the way you bring it. What’s the secret language to children then?
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You Do Start In A Positive Way
You may actually already be speaking nicely to your children. I don’t think that anybody reading a positive parenting blog post would be one to spend the day barking orders and threatening his children. Or maybe you actually do and you are fed up with it and in a will to change. Good on you. We’re going to help you achieve that (I used to yell a lot too, damn, my poor neighbors!).
Most parents with whom I speak feel disheartened because they really try to be nice and ask things gently at first, but they become quickly frustrated as the child doesn’t « obey ». They live it like a betrayal: “I am putting in the effort of being kind and you don’t even care?”
You may ask them in a calm tone to clean up this or get ready for that, and once the result isn’t showing up, you start to:
- loose you temper
- try to negotiate
- bribe your child
- yell and threaten
- give up on the request
Most parents, when talking about the last conflict they had with their child, would say things like “I had to yell” or “I had to promise him a lollypop”. It’s not the solution they wanted, but they felt like they had no other options.
They also admit that most of those conflicts happen when they are tired, stressed or irritated.
Johnathan doesn’t want to brush his teeth. You ask him once, then twice. You start to loose it and speak louder. Still no result? You start yelling and threatening. And suddenly, Johnathan smiles, grabs his toothbrush and says: “oh, I see your point now, let me brush my teeth”.
Unlikely? Yes. We all loose our temper or go to pieces from time to time. That’s what happens when we don’t know what else to do, when we don’t know of any other solution. But it never brings the result we were looking for in a satisfying way.
Adults minds vs children minds in the limits setting
One of the problem is that adults have forgotten how their mind used to work when they were children.
When we reach puberty, somewhere around 12 years old, our brain becomes capable of abstract logic and reasoning. That’s when we are able to start to practice strategy and planing. As we grow up, we become better and better at it until our mind is fully comfortable in abstraction. We can look to the past and to the future, and we think about our activities with an already set goal.
Well, dear parents, children don’t.
As shown here, first children experience water. Water doesn’t make sense if they don’t see it. During the first two years of their life, babies discover the world through their bodies and senses.
Then, they learn to put words on things, and they have an idea of what water is without seeing it. They start to create representations and organize the world using symbols.
Later, they get a new capacity: moving away from themselves. It means that now they can take into account different aspects of one situation. The thoughts become more logical but still very much into the here and now.
And the last stage, coming with the puberty, allow them to think abstractly and develop hypothesis. The children are now able to think logically. Which doesn’t mean that they will. Everything has to be learned and practiced.
When setting limits, it’s all about using the right channel!
Depending on your child’s age, you have to adapt the message to his comprehension.
With a good understanding of your child’s abilities, there is a good chance the message will go through better!
Communication isn’t only about words. Be overall positive
Communication is not only about the words you use, it’s a lot more than that!
I’m sure you’ve heard about all the non-verbal communication theories by now, and they are actually more than theories. They are facts. So let’s look into it.
A message is passed on through 3 channels:
our body language
the tone of our voice
the words we use
Can you take a guess at the proportions?
our body language 55%
the tone of our voice 38%
the words we use 7%
Hence, the way we say something is more important than what we say. Now, you might wonder: what’s that non-verbal communication? It’s the tone of the voice, as mentioned, but also the flow and the volume of the voice, the rhythm and intonation, as well as how we put the accent on the words:
“Didn’t I tell YOU that this glass of WAter would END up on the floOR???”
And the list is not over, you can add the expression of the face, especially the tiny muscles around the eyes, the intensity of the visual contact, the gesture, the posture and the body language.
Children’s mind might not get the logic of our words, but it gets our intention all right. If your verbal communication doesn’t match your non-verbal one, the tendency is for the human brain to turn to the non-verbal information. This ends up in your message being inconsistent.
So what can prevent a consistent message?
Stress obviously doesn’t help, as well as not feeling good (tiredness, emotions, hunger, frustration, under the influence of alcohol/drugs/medicine) and being distracted.
That’s actually a big one in our days of glued-to-smartphone-parents.
If you are in one of the above situations: feeling stressed, physically or emotionally overwhelmed or already doing something else, I would suggest that you postpone the conversation you were about to have with your child.
Children totally understand that, as long as you’re clear: “I want to speak with you about what happened with your brother, but right now I am too angry so I’ll let you know when we can have this conversation” is much better than getting mad, yelling or sounding overwhelmed, giving crazy consequences or being dismissal.
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Also, a little reminder here: you’re not the only one with emotions!
If your child is totally confused, angry or anxious, the message won’t get through either. Give your child the time he needs to recover and calm down before you speak with him.
When my daughter crosses a boundary, she very well knows it. That makes her upset and she gets into her ready-for-a-fight-mood. There’s no way I’m stepping into that. I gently tell her that when she feels calm enough we can speak about this.
Oh, and did I mention this immutable rule?
You cannot not communicate.
Yes, that’s right. So no matter what you say or don’t say, whatever you do or don’t do, you are communicating. Which brings the question: what am I telling?
Be aware of yourself if you want to set and maintain positive boundaries
Now we get to the Yoda part where I tell you to learn to master yourself. It makes sense when you think of it, doesn’t it?
I know, you expected a couple of smart sentences that would get your child to do as you want and still feel good as a parent because it was nicely said. Hey, nobody said that raising kids was a simple job.
So I cannot promise easy, but I can guarantee enjoyable.
Not so bad is it? If that’s not what you’re looking for, no hard feeling, you can stop reading and hire a German nanny 😉
For those who stayed, let’s get back to our communication predicament. The idea here is the following:
If you ask someone to do something, you’re the one responsible to get the message across.
If you set a limit and your child doesn’t understand it, who’s to blame? Your child for not understanding? Or you for not explaining properly?
If one of the boundaries you decided on with your child (see the boundaries workbook) is not respected, check with him that it was well understood before thinking repairing or consequences.
When you have a message you want to pass on, think about the goal you’re aiming for, about how you’re going to communicate it and watch your child. Watch carefully. Is he getting the message you intended him to get?
The best way to know if you are being understood is by learning to observe your child. Read his body language, what does it tell you?
Positive limit setting is for important things
Before we go into the keys to positively establish and enforce boundaries, ask yourself this one and essential question:
Is this important or not?
If you react to everything with the same intensity, what’s gonna happen?
You will be exhausted by the end of the day
Your child won’t be able to tell the difference between important things and less important ones
You will loose your child attention because there is only so much one can take in a day
Does this sound familiar to you? Ok, let’s do something practical here.
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All right, now that we are clear on WHEN you will act or not upon your child’s behavior, let’s see HOW you can achieve that.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
If I put together what you’ve learned so far, to ensure that the boundaries you established (preferably with your child, download our workbook) are respected, you have to:
adapt the message to the age of your child Every stage of development has its own capacities at reasoning and understanding. So don’t expect a 4 years old to understand that not brushing his teeth will get him holes.
give a consistent message your verbal and non-verbal have to convey ONE message. Be sure to be in a good disposition before an important conversation or postpone it (but speak about it).
make sure the message goes through practice the observation of your child. What does he look like when he understands something? When he doesn’t? When his attention is somewhere else?
check that your receiver is up to the task if your child is deep into emotions, he won’t be able to listen to you. Give him time to cool off if needed, but make it clear there will be a discussion afterward.
Those four points are your posture as a caring parent. They are your responsibility if you want your message to go through. You will see that once you’ve practiced those habits (it takes 21 days to create a new habit), you will be rewarded greatly.
If you want your child to respect the limits you set, there are a few golden rules about those limits:
they have to be extra clear No matches, no spitting, helping cleaning-up the table
they have to be feasible At 3 you can’t clean up your room alone
they have to follow your child’s development As he grows he’s more autonomous, hence the boundaries have to be adapted
there has to be a consequence if a limit is not respected I’m not talking spanks here!
there can be exceptions but they have to be exceptional
A Few Keys To Positively Set Limits
Actually, once you’re clear about what you want for your family, that you’ve decided on clear boundaries with your child, that you’ve written those boundaries down, that you’ve understood the rules to communicate better and that you’ve practiced the important/not-so-important situations, 80% of the job is done 🙂
So, you’re already 80% good, what about the other 20%?
When you yell, you don’t give your message louder, you switch the attention of the child from the message to your behavior. So it doesn’t work.
When you give in, when you say yes instead of no, you are not being a loving parent, you are being a dismissal parent. As if your child was not worth the effort. It doesn’t work.
When you bargain, you’re not into your parent’s posture. You are not standing strong. You go into a horizontal relation where you give your children responsibilities he shouldn’t have to bear.
Next time you can do this instead:
be calm Your action isn’t guided by your emotions. You think with your head. Your child will see immediately that you are grounded and will listen to you instead or reacting to your emotions. If you need it, take some time to cool off before speaking. Express it if you do, remember? “I say what I do”.
be convinced You have to believe in what you say. Keep in mind those 7% of verbal communication. If you take action to enforce a boundary, you have to believe in that boundary. This is why it is so important to take time to write them down and think them over.
be decided Once you’re convinced and take action to enforce a boundary, do it. There is no discussions to have about it, no “but the other day you let me….”. You are calm, you are convinced, and now you are decided that this limit was not to be crossed.
As for how to say it, I would suggest to follow the strategy of Non Violent Communication. Keep in mind that your child is very sensitive to what you say AND that you are the most important person in his life. It is so easy to express ourselves poorly and hurt our kids.
The first golden rule is to condemn a behavior but not the child.
What does it mean?
It means that you can say:”kicking your brother is nasty” but not “you are nasty”.
Make a difference between your child’s actions and his personality. This prevents labels and all that can arise as a result
The second golden rule is to use non violent communication.
Children’s mind might work differently when it comes to logic, but they understand perfectly our feelings.
Be careful to not use it as an emotional blackmail tool though, I am not saying:
“mama will be so sad if she’s late” or “if you loved your mom very much you would put on your shoes”. Don’t EVER do that. This is self-esteem poison.
When you have to say something about a boundary, follow these simple steps from Non Violent Communication , they will prevent crisis and drama if followed properly:
describe the situation I can see that you didn’t brush your teeth tonight
share your feelings about the situation I don’t like to go to the dentist
express your need I need you to take care of your health as you grow up and I know you are capable to do it
make a request could you go and brush your teeth now before we read the story?
A few steps, some self-awareness, a lot of love, and here you are!
Limits can be set in a positive way
Now I know that you believe it too!
You’ve got all you need to try and experiment new ways to communicate with your child.
Remember that it takes 21 days to change a habit, and that children are critter of habits (on top of it). But all it takes is some will and patience, and you will be rewarded for all the days, weeks, months and years that follow.
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Thanks for reading this article. As always, I hope it gave you some line of thoughts to explore as well as ideas to act and create a positive change in your life. Don’t let the inspiration fades and take action right away:
- save the article in your favorites
- decide on the one action you will implement today and write it in your notebook
- share this article with 3 friends who could benefit from it
I wish you all the best with your kids, always remember that we all do the best we can at a given moment and don’t judge yourself harshly. Be confident and listen to your intuition. If what you do comes from a place of love, then you’re on the right path.
See you next week for our next article!
P.S: Don’t forget your Action Sheet!!!