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kids enjoying playing at the playground

Ahh, summer break, and if your house was anything like mine, some of the limits and boundaries had relaxed or went out the window altogether. I noticed it; I’m sure my son noticed it and certainly, my sanity or the lack thereof, noticed it. But, it was summer.

Limits and boundaries are healthy and essential for children in their emotional development and well-being. As parents, we tend to set limits around things that will keep our children safe and reflect our values. For example:

  • If eating meals as a family is important to you, then you are likely to set limits to ensure that your family shares meals together.
  • If your children spend lots of time watching television or playing on their devices and you don’t like it or value it, you are likely to set limits on screen time.
  • If you value your children getting plenty of sleep and being well rested, you are likely to set limits on bed time.

Having limits offers children a sense of security and comfort, and teaches them self-control. Limits also help guide children to develop other life skills such as delayed gratification and how to deal with frustration. Developing these skills within their daily lives, whether it be at home or their preschool or school, allows them to practice them and apply them in the community and relationships with friends.

Now that we are wrapping up the second week of September, and we all are vigorously trying to get back our “normal” schedule and family structure by reintroducing limits and boundaries, the question is “How do we set limits that work?”

  • Be practical. If the limits require too much “policing,” they will be a burden to enforce and ultimately won’t work.
  • Be consistent. Consider this example. If one day you allow your child as much screen time as they want because you need to get some work done, however, the next day you limit it, it’s hard for your child to take the limit seriously.
  • Use consequences. As you discuss limits with your children, have a conversation about the consequences. My experience has been that if consequences are known in advance, they tend to be more effective because the child knows what will happen should they choose to ignore the limits. The key to consequences, regardless of what the consequence is, is to be consistent in applying them.
  • Discuss limits and consequences as a family. Discuss why you are setting the limit and invite your children to provide input (if age appropriate). Invite your child to have input and help develop the limits and consequences if they do, they are more likely to buy into them and follow them.
  • Firm but kind. Your children will test the limits. Be firm yet kind, so your children learn to respect the limits and take them seriously.

Children who feel loved and valued by their parents will be more likely to accept correction and limits. Be ready to tell your child “no” quite often during this process. Take the time to explain why they can’t do something rather than just telling them no. For preschoolers, roll out the limits a few at a time. Your preschool child needs to be able to achieve success with following one limit before moving to another. If limits are new to your preschooler, pay attention to how the limits are affecting them. The importance of setting limits isn’t to crush their spirit. Be sure they know you love them which is why you have limits and boundaries that keep them safe and teaches them your family values.

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