Setting limits and saying no

As parents the only thing we want for our children is for them to be happy. To achieve that we need to give them the tools and teach them to navigate through difficulties in an ever-complicated world.

This happens from a very young age, when the children start to grow and explore the world around them on their own. We must guide them, so they don’t hurt themselves when they start to move independently. And from that moment on our job is to teach them not only how to take care of themselves and others, but also care for their toys, their books, animals, plants, etc.

This is the moment when we start teaching them good habits. The youngest a child is, the easier they can learn them. So, there is no time to waste: the sooner good habits are taught, the sooner the child will acquire them.

Establish Good Habits

Parents must establish the habits. They need to be clear and followed up with consistency. The child must know which behavior is expected from him/her. For example: washing hands before eating, brushing their teeth before bedtime, clean up their toys, help at home with simple chores depending on their age, etc.

It is important to be consistent in doing so and there shouldn’t be exceptions because they might deduce that they can do different. Parents need to be firm until the habit has been learned.

Having a steady routine and family rituals, helps family life flow smoother. Of course, routine can be altered sometimes but keeping it steady teaches the children structure, discipline and that they also have obligations within the family.

For example, saying: “Toilet, teeth, story time and bedtime” every night before bedtime, is a very efficient way to establish a routine that will lead to a relaxed evening after a busy day at work and school/daycare.

Reinforce Positive Behavior

When conflict arise because a child hurt a sibling or doesn’t want to shower or go to bed, parents must intervene and impose their authority.

However, these are not the only moments when parents must react. Most of all, we cannot have the children believe that they just get attention when they disobey or are not listening.

On the contrary, we must show them that we also react when they do something good too. If your child is playing nicely on her/his own, you can say: ‘i love to see you playing”, If they brush their teeth on their own, you can say: “Well done, you deserve a kiss.”

This reaction from the parents makes the children want to repeat the behavior in the future.

Say “No” the right way

We have to say no without making the children feel guilty or ashamed. For a no to be effective, it must make sense and establish reasonable limits.

There are many ways to say no. To stop a child from doing something he/she is not allowed, making eye contact, a serious face or shaking the hand or the head, are nonverbal ways to show disapproval can be enough.

In this way the child learns to read the disapproval in the parent’s attitudes, as they are used to get interest, love, and encouragement.

The face says: “I don’t like what you are doing, and you know it. You have to stop”.

Saying no with a sound: “uh-uh” is another way to do it. Parents always find a way to let their children know they do not approve a behavior.

Keep the “No”

When parents say no and their child persist with the behavior, we must act and stop them. Otherwise, the children will translate it as: ”I don’t like what you are doing, but I cannot stop you from doing it.”

If we say no to something, we must stick to it. The worse is to say “no” followed by ok, but don’t do it again.”

We must maintain our position. This consistency is how they learn limits.

Limits are very important. When children don’t get limits, we are not helping them develop important skills that they will need in the future. Negotiation is not an option as it will lead to arguing.

Saying “no” to a child teaches them to deal with frustration. And if they learn from young age to deal positively with this emotion, it will be easier to deal with it when they get older.

It teaches them restrain, respect and that they cannot always get what they want, when they wanted. They won’t become entitled.

To help them deal with frustration we must show empathy when conflict arise. For example: ‘I understand you want to stay here with us, but it is bedtime” or “I know you really want a snack now, but it is almost dinner time, so we’ll have it afterwards”.

In this way you acknowledge their feeling and understand why you say no, but at the same time will feel understood and listened to.

That is why parents shouldn’t feel guilty to put limits or say no. It gives the children opportunities to practice how to deal in the best way through difficult situations. It is practice that will make them stronger and paves the way to deal with more difficult emotions and situations in the future.

This article was written by Paola, Big Ben Kids Care Coordinator

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