Parenting Lessons: Loving ways to set limits

Time, Limits and Caring are what I call the holy trinity of childcare. Here, you'll learn the importance of limits, and start to get comfortable with making rules and being strict with your children when necessary.

It's impossible to raise children well unless we spend time with them. And spending simple time together has wonderful results. For example, my research shows that children in families that eat dinner together at least a few times per week tend to be less depressed, have less permissive attitudes toward sex, are less likely to use drugs, and are more likely to work to their intellectual potential in school. Caring is equally important—taking an active interest in our children's lives, being willing to listen to what's on their minds and participate in their activities.

For most parents, the trickiest part of TLC is setting limits for our kids. We believe setting limits-saying "no" for example—will destroy the closeness we have with our children and take all the fun out of parenting. But it is only by setting limits that we can help kids develop character and avoid some of the dangers of adolescence, including eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and underachievement.

The Importance of Limits
We all need limits, adults and children alike. Yet some parents believe that setting limits is inconsistent with our desire to have a relationship with our child that is based on mutual respect. Trust and mutual respect are a crucial part of the parent-child relationship, but I strongly disagree with the philosophy that says it is always bad to assert power over your children. You can try to discuss situations in which you and your child disagree—she wants to attend a rock concert, for example, and you feel she is too young to go with a group of friends to such an event. But in the end you may need to assert authority and simply refuse permission to let her go.

So when a child tries to get your okay to do something they're not ready for by saying, "Don't you trust me?" I recommend responding, "No, and I wouldn't have trusted myself at your age either. Part of my job as a parent is to protect you from risky situations."

Responses like this may anger your child, but your firmness also sends them the message that you care enough about them to hold the line, risk their displeasure, and create conflict and friction. They know it would be easier for you to give in. They are testing you.

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