One of the biggest challenges I believe that parents face is setting age appropriate limits and maintaining them consistently. In this post we will look at the why, who, what and how of setting and maintaining limits thereby creating a safe, loving home environment where everyone knows what is expected. In this article I refer to children, but these same principles and ideas are applicable to your teenagers.
Why do we have to set limits for our children/teens? Primarily we set limits to keep our children safe and healthy. We set limits to let children know what is socially acceptable and appropriate in particular situations. We set limits so that our children know what is expected of them, and to give them a sense of control and power over their world. We set limits to keep a sense of order because without order a child’s world can feel very overwhelming.
Who defines or sets the limits for children/teens? I am certain everyone understands and agrees that limits are imposed on our children in all of the places they gather; in school, church, in the homes of friends and extended family, and in the community. In our homes it is the responsibility of the parents to decide what limits they will define and why. As your children get older you may consider discussing with them the limits and boundaries you set based on their maturity and level of responsibility, you will be surprised to find that your teen understands and welcomes reasonable limits.
What limits do we set as parents for our children? Let me begin here by saying that too many limits can be confining and can cause children to rebel. Children need to be able to explore, experiment and engage with their world within limits that are age appropriate for optimal growth and development. As a PCI Certified Parent Coach® I encourage parents to sit down with a piece of paper and pen and actually write out a list of absolute limits. These are things that have to do with the health and safety of the child, others, and property. These may be labeled Our Rules. This is a list of things that you have absolutely no problem following through on and maintaining with 100 percent consistency. This list will be very different for a family of teenagers than it will for a family with small children, therefore you will have to revisit these limits as your children grow and have the ability to take on more and more responsibility.
As you look back over your list you may notice that there are things that you frequently have battles over with your child/ren. Are these things absolutes; are they things that you have not been consistent about because you find that they don’t really matter that much? Are your limits realistic? It is imperative that your limits are realistic and that they can be explained and maintained in all settings. By ensuring this you set your child and yourself up for success. If your limits cannot be maintained in all settings then these may be called Our Negotiables. By being clear about what you are willing to negotiate and what you aren’t you will have an easier time sticking to your guns.
Now that you know why you need to set limits, who sets the limits, and what limits you are going to set, comes the hard part—How do we maintain the limits? Maintaining limits requires a clear understanding of why you set them. If, for example, you don’t know why your teenager can’t stay out all night then you are going to have a really hard time sharing with him/her your expectation and getting them to follow it. Once you have a clear understanding of why you have a limit it will be much easier to share that value with your child. You will state the limit or boundary clearly and give your reason simply at the time it will be most beneficial. If your child responds in a less than desirable way, you can appreciate their disappointment, validate their frustration, and be clear in the knowledge that your limit is reasonable, and in the best interest of everyone involved. You will not get into a battle over the limits you set because there is no battle to have. Your child will understand that your limits come from a place of love and respect for who they are and who they are becoming.