Written by Dr Meghna Singhal and published on 17 December 2021.
Setting limits for your child will help keep her safe and learn acceptable behaviors. Here's how you can enforce rules and consequences, while not forgetting to empathize with her feelings
Often, limits and rules can become a battleground between you and your child. They can lead to power struggles if you end up losing sight of the correct reasons for setting limits and rules.
Limits and rules are guidelines for behavior to keep your child safe and healthy, teach self-regulation, and help him cope with difficult feelings and situations. Rules and limits also make your child feel cared for and help him learn to take others' feelings into account as well.
In a broad sense, then, rules and limits help children figure out how the world works. So, how can you set rules and limits that work for your child? Let's dive into some dos and don'ts for setting limits and rules for your preschooler.
Don't expect your child to do things beyond her stage of development. At the same time, don't do things for your child that she can do for herself.
Little Bindiya's parents wake her up every morning for school. Then they brush the 4-year-old's teeth, give her a bath, choose her clothes and dress her, fix her breakfast, and make her sit for her online classes. They feed her during mealtimes and clear her table when she's done.
While a 4-year-old may still need her parents to bathe her and fix her meals, Bindiya's parents need to set limits for tasks she can do herself. Knowing what your child can do by herself and what she can learn at her age is a crucial first step in helping your child learn appropriate behaviors and sharpen her skills. After all, one reason why children don't stick to limits is that they don't have the skills they need.
Don't set more than two or three rules at any one time, as they can overwhelm or confuse your preschooler.
Varsha, a 3-year-old, wakes a little later than the rest of her family and comes straight to the table to eat breakfast, without brushing her teeth. Her parents keep telling her to brush her teeth but she doesn't listen. They serve her breakfast but continue to nag her to brush her teeth.
Establishing simple, clear rules for daily routine and tasks will help your child understand your expectations. Discuss with your child why you're setting the rules. Whenever possible, involve her in setting the rules. This will make her feel empowered and more willing to follow the rules.
Don't be tempted to break the rules yourself, whenever convenient.
Daksh is a 3-year-old whose parents are concerned about his unhealthy eating habits. The family rule is "Only after we finish dinner, we eat dessert." Sometimes they follow this rule as a family, sometimes everyone eats sweet treats before dinner.
It's important to follow your rules consistently. If you follow them one day but break them the next, your child will not feel motivated to stick to them. Having said that, however, consistency doesn't mean you can't make exceptions to the rule. If you're on a vacation or sleeping late, eating dessert before dinner is okay. Just make sure you discuss with your child why you're doing things differently now (and your usual rules haven't changed). Discussing this reasoning helps your child learn flexibility and critical thinking skills.
Don't adopt an "I-told-you-so" approach.
Dhruv, a 5-year-old, watches videos on his dad's mobile phone after his online classes. Some days, his dad lets him watch videos for 2-3 hours in a row, other days he takes away his mobile to make work calls.
Support your child in sticking to the rule. Sit with your child and brainstorm ways in which you can help her follow the rule. Avoid using the "I-told-you-so" approach; it turns your child's anger on to you, rather than on learning the lesson.
It helps to draw clear limits and rules about what constitutes appropriate behavior. However, setting limits can be tough. You might feel guilty about saying no to your child. Or you might want to avoid a temper tantrum that will surely erupt when you remind your child about a limit. But learning how to deal with uncomfortable feelings is actually an important skill.
But what if you find yourself fuming when your child pushes a limit and oversteps his boundaries?
Finally, remember that your child is trying to understand the world around her. She's constantly learning, testing boundaries, understanding what works and what doesn't. Change doesn't happen overnight. It takes love, care and patience, mixed in with firmness and consistency, to reinforce acceptable behaviors in your child.
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