Every good father and mother loves their children, but sometimes the little ones in the house don’t know how to control themselves, misbehave and can cause more than a few annoyances.

That is why, in order to guarantee a good dynamic in the home and the happiness of all the members of the family, it is necessary to set clear limits for the children. The way it should be done should be healthy and without them feeling that they are being deprived of exploring the world and testing their capacities and curiosity, features very typical of all healthy childhoods.

So in this article, as a guide for every desperate parent trying to figure out how to set limits for children , we’re going to put together some effective tips and strategies for getting children to learn what they can and cannot do.

How do you set limits for children?

In recent decades there has been a greater sensitivity towards children and a view against mistreatment and physical and emotional abuse of children. However, as a side effect of this, more and more parents, in an attempt to please their children, have ended up having spoiled children who do not respect their elders.

This is why it is so important to know how to set limits for children and avoid situations that, as they grow up, will make them unadjusted adults both socially and professionally. We will see how to do this below.

1. Proportionate and fair limits

The child must perceive the limit as something fair and, to do so, it must really be an appropriate limit, not the result of an imposition to the liking of the adult who sets it.

When limits are set, the goal is to make the child understand what is right and wrong to do, and why that limit exists.

Therefore, one should not try to humiliate the child and make him/her see that he/she cannot do a particular action because the adult commands him/her to do so and to keep quiet.

Disproportionate limits contribute to the child’s frustration, and can eventually affect his or her personality, being afraid to dare to do things for fear of being unjustly punished.

2. Kindness is not the same as permissiveness

Parents must be kind, avoiding that the bad day they might have had at work or because of a tantrum from their children will bring out a whole series of bad emotions that, of course, will have a negative impact on the child. But this does not mean that any action by the child should be tolerated , avoiding that he feels sad or angry at any time.

Allowing any mischief by the child to go ahead, without the parents daring to scold him, clearly means making the child have no boundaries and believe in the right to do whatever he wants.

3. Make the child reflect on what he has done

The typical situation at home: the child breaks a vase and the parents get very angry, punishing him without being able to play with the console. It is logical to think that through negative reinforcement the child will stop doing what he has done; however, will he be aware that what he has done is wrong?

If the child does something and the parents immediately respond with anger and punishment, a very important step in education and learning is really being missed: reflection.

When the child does something wrong it is necessary to sit down with him for a moment and calmly explain to him why what he has done is not right. The punishment comes after giving him a clear and concise explanation of why he should not do what he has done again.

4. Make him help to fix what he has done wrong

Learning is not only about learning how to do things, but also about seeing one’s own mistakes and learning how to fix them.

That is why having the child contribute to finding a solution to the damage he or she may have done becomes a great educational opportunity, making the child see the effort involved in having to fix a bad action he or she has done.

For example, if he has broken a vase he can be made to think about how he can fix what he has done, and once he has come to the conclusion that he will have to put the vase back together, he can do it himself or with the help of an adult.

5. Disapprove the behavior, not the child

One mistake that many parents make when it comes to setting limits is to be too strict, so much so that they can make mistakes and instead of punishing the bad thing the child has done, they punish a part of his personality .

It is quite common for a child to be scolded for what he is like instead of what he has done, and that, of course, is going to hurt him in the long run, since such interesting traits as curiosity or assertiveness can be punished.

If the child has gone out without permission to meet a friend, he should not be punished by forbidding him to go out anymore. He should be punished in other ways, but not by prohibiting him from socializing or from having contact with the outside world.

When applying the punishment, you must explain what action is being punished, and avoid the child thinking that he or she is being punished because of his or her mania.

6. Be firm

Many times, parents, faced with an unruly child, decide to stand up once and for all and apply the punishment, but when the child starts pouting or making eyes at the lamb with its throat cut, they soften and tell themselves that for once they are going to let it go.

This is a mistake. You have to be firm and let the punishment come to an end . This way the child will not see his parents as easily manipulated adults who have them eating out of their hands and who can therefore do whatever they want.

But you must not only be firm with the punishments, but also when applying a routine to the child. For example, you cannot allow a child to go to bed at 9:00, 10:00 and 11:00 on one day.

7. Proposing alternatives

It is very possible that when establishing a limit, the child sees it as something very authoritarian and that it does not invite him to give his opinion or his vision about the new norm to be fulfilled, perceiving the adult as if he were a dictator.

That is why, to avoid seeing the limit as too static and fixed, a good option is to propose alternatives in the form of a series of acceptable behaviours .

In this way, the child will see that he or she really has a wide range of possibilities and that he or she is not really being deprived of the freedom that he or she might have thought of at first.

8. Accentuate the positive

Orders can be perceived as something desirable to do if they are perceived in positive terms.

This means that if the adult changes his language to a more positive one, besides highlighting the things the child is doing well, he is more likely to be motivated and to try to do things with more effort and care .

For example, instead of saying to the child when he or she is speaking in a loud tone ‘don’t shout’, it is better to rephrase this sentence in less negative terms, such as ‘please speak a little quieter’. It doesn’t sound like such a taxing order.

9. Managing emotions

This advice may seem the most obvious of all and the one that ‘all’ parents assume they follow when it comes to applying limits and punishments to their children. Let’s be honest, who hasn’t lost their temper on more than one occasion?

When you are in a bad mood, be it angry, tired or sad, you are more likely to be disproportionate when it comes to punishing the child’s mischief or not being completely objective when deciding on a limit or new rule to follow.

That is why, even though it is difficult, before saying or doing something that will not benefit our progeny, let us breathe, try to calm our minds and, if we cannot, ask another adult to take care of the child or talk to him/her.

It is much more responsible to know when we are not able to educate our children than to try to do it totally out of our minds.

10. Managing tantrums

All children have tantrums. They arise with the intention of getting adults’ attention and making them give them what they want. It is possible that the child’s claim is legitimate, but the way he does it is not the right way .

The best way to make him see that this is not the way to ask for things is not to give him what he is looking for at that moment, which is to be the center of attention. If the child sees that the adult is not paying attention to him, sooner or later he will get tired of doing what he is doing because, let’s be frank, yelling, crying and kicking is a very tiring activity and the infant does not have unlimited energy.

But be careful, because if the child starts breaking things or bothering other people we can get into serious trouble . In that case, we have to intervene, stopping him and, furthermore, punishing him without what he was asking for.

In short, if the tantrum is harmless, it should be ignored and waited for to calm down, in case it hurts others, it should be stopped and it should be made clear that what it was claiming from us now will no longer be its own fault.

Bibliographic references:

  • Palacios, J.; Marchesi, A. and Coll, C. (Comps.) (1999). Desarrollo Psicológico y Educación, Vol. 1: Psicología Evolutiva. Madrid: Alianza Editorial.
  • Shaffer, D. R. and Kipp, K. (2007). Developmental psychology. Childhood and adolescence (7th ed.). Mexico: Thompson.