Setting Limits with Empathy and Respect

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Most parents today understand the importance of respecting kids’ autonomy.  Most of us have not been shown how to do it and still get the results we want for our kids, though.  We are left floundering somewhere between feeling the need to control (an authoritarian parenting style) and feeling out of control (a permissive style).  Setting limits which fully respect everyone requires a different mindset altogether.

To set respectful limits takes commitment to the goal and commitment to raising our awareness of the beliefs we hold.  Some beliefs operate at a conscious level but most are operating at a subconscious or unconscious level.  Let’s assume you already believe that gentle parenting is both worthwhile AND possible, but your results have not changed.  This means that somewhere in the process of setting respectful limits, you are stuck.  You might need a quick fine-tuning of your skills or your language.  Or maybe you have some less-than-conscious beliefs working against you.  First, give yourself a break for any perceived failures and celebrate your commitment to raising your kids more consciously.  Parenting is a tough gig!

If you are stuck thinking that limits quash self-esteem and creativity, here are 7 beliefs to consider.

When you don’t set firm limits, any of the following can occur:

  1. The child gets hurt, becomes overtired, or develops poor nutrition.
  2. The child’s desires are met at the expense of others.
  3. The child learns that sadness, frustration and disappointment are intolerable.
  4. The child never learns self-discipline.
  5. The child feels uneasy and afraid because they want someone else to be in charge and to protect them (sometimes from themselves!)
  6. The parents are constantly compromising things that are important to them or helpful to their children—not a pattern we want our kids to repeat.
  7. It undermines the trust between the parent and child and actually erodes respect for the parent!

Let’s look at the SWEET SPOT of setting limits with empathy and respect.

Alison’s Top 7 Tips

  1. Empathize with their thoughts and feelings. “I see you want the balloon but your brother has it and you feel strongly about it.”
  2. Be clear and direct.
  3. Be concise.
  4. Ask why? “Why do we pick up toys from the stairs?”
  5. Offer as much choice as possible, whenever possible. “Do you want the blue pants or the grey pants today.”
  6. Use statements when there is no room for negotiation. “Please sit.”
  7. Empathize and restate the limit.

Empathetic Limits in Action

 A child throws sand and the mom says, “If you continue to throw sand, we will have to leave the park.”  This may sound like a punishment, but with the right framing, can be respectful limit-setting instead.

After leaving and a cool down time, the mom could say, “It was too hard for you to stop throwing sand today. But throwing sand hurts people, so we had to leave.  Soon you will be able to stop yourself, so we can stay and play. We can try again tomorrow.”

What’s so great about this?

  • your child will still be upset, but he sees that you are on his side so your connection is maintained,
  • he knows you will keep him and others safe when he cannot,
  • he sees staying at the park next time as within his power,
  • and he learns healthy boundaries and life lessons.

I know all this but I’m still feeling stuck!

Do you say, “I just can’t seem to stick to them?” or “I get so mad when they don’t listen?”  If you are noticing patterns in your behaviour but your results are not changing, it’s time for an outside perspective.  Find an honest friend for feedback.  Or seek a coach or therapist to help you recognize what beliefs are operating that keep you stuck.

Next time you’re feeling the challenge of setting empathic limits, try some of these ideas and be sure to let me know how it goes!

Alison Smith is a mother and parenting coach who understands the unique needs and challenges of today's parents. To discover more great solutions and receive your downloadable gift of 20 fun and simple ways to connect with your kids while increasing cooperation, join her email list using the form below. [mailmunch-form id="529778"]

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