Something that all parents struggle with, at one point or another, is setting boundaries for their children. This is especially difficult during the Holiday season, especially when schedules have changed, bedtimes are later, and relatives come to stay. Kids still undoubtedly need boundaries and limits to feel safe and help keep their own behaviors in check even during the holiday cheer.
Setting and enforcing these limits can get tricky at this time of year. We want to avoid force, threats and bribes, because this can make the tension rise in your home. Telling your child, “If you are a good boy then you can stay up late”, is a lose – lose situation between you and your child. Or when you say, “If you don’t clean up your toys right now, I will take away your lovie” is another lose – lose situation. You are already at your limits with your patience, your emotions have run high and before you know it, you have emotionally lost control.
Here are some tips that can help make setting consistent boundaries a bit easier:
THINK AHEAD -make a strategic plan with your family. We know where our kids fall apart. Trust me, I have been standing in the aisle at a toy store watching my child cry, stomp her feet, and demand another Barbie. Be one step ahead of yourself. Set limits BEFORE you walk into the story or maybe think ahead to running this errand at the beginning of the day, not when your child has been schlepping around town all day.
Don’t be wishy-washy and avoid using weak language when giving directions. State your expectation before you enter the store. Remember that nonverbal cues carry a huge importance. Always down and eye-to-eye with your child. Mean what you say while crouched down, in close proximity and wearing a neutral facial expression. Use a warm, but firm tone. Standing high using a sharp tone can be scary to your child and initiates a “fight or flight” alarm. You need to stay connected to them and stay emotionally regulated.
Don’t expect a child to comply without getting upset. Set the limit- then make space for their feelings. It is helpful to label their feelings. “I see you are angry”, “it’s really difficult for you right now”. Labeling and acknowledging their feelings helps your child feel understood. It’s good to be understood even if you are getting a “no” response from your mommy or daddy. Being calm and reassuring at these times is also key. Handling disappointment is not something people learn by being shut down emotionally. Have developmentally-appropriate expectations for your child.
Remember how much they are growing on each level, emotionally, physically and psychologically. Stay decisive even when you change your mind. Have confidence in your decision. Staying consistent in your decisiveness is way more important than a rule being unwavering. Don’t explain your reason for a limit more than once. Once a child is in the process of having a tantrum, gaining control of them emotionally should be your first priority.
Lastly, use humor! Animate, and saturate with wit. Use objects, a silly tone, or invent a wild character. But this tactic takes just as much energy as bargaining or yelling. When you feel like you are losing control and need some coaching during the process, be sure to contact us at www.familystrengthcoaching for some reassuring ways to help keep your little ones cooperating during difficult times.
“If people are only good because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we indeed are a sorry lot” – Albert Einstein.