Parenting Lessons: Loving ways to set limits

 Choosing Proper Punishment
Now that you have explored some of the reasons why you may have trouble setting limits, you are ready to change your behavior. Once you've decided to establish real rules at home, it's important to be consistent about enforcing them and it's usually necessary to have some kind of punishment in place. Rules are usually more effective if there are real consequences to breaking them, and it's important that the consequences are spelled out in advance.

"Time out" is usually effective for younger kids as a consequence. As kids get older, their rooms are generally where they want to be, so this becomes less effective. I stopped using Time Outs as punishment when my kids turned seven.

Other options include having your kids do tasks that aren't a normal part of their responsibilities, such as sweeping out the garage or washing windows. Grounding is popular among parents; the loss of phone privileges can be effective. But be cautious about setting penalties that are too severe. For one thing, it limits your ability to punish for anything else. Once I worked with a set of parents who, in response to various infractions, removed nearly everything from their son's room—stereo, television, computer, phone—until they no longer had any disciplinary leverage.

Changing One Behavior at a Time
Remember, setting limits doesn't only need to be about punishment. You can be proactive about setting positive limits for your child, and you can start now. Choose one behavior you want to change or develop in your child (e.g. cleaning room, doing dishes). It may help you to think back to the Step One exercise. No doubt, there's a connection between the behavior you give in on and the behavior you wish most to change.

To change the behavior, you need to map out a plan. Your plan should include:

1) How you will talk to your child about the new policy
This should include the reasons why you think it is important (e.g. I need the help around the house). Be sure that you explain your reasons without lecturing or placing blame. Your discussion will be more effective if your child perceives that you are asking for help rather than demanding it. Here's how I would approach this conversation with my own son:

"John, I need to talk to you about something. Can we take 5 minutes now? I've been thinking lately about the kinds of chores I have to do around the house and to tell you the truth I could really use your help. So I'm asking you to take over the responsibility for putting your laundry in the hamper. I know you can do a good job."

By stating your needs and posing your request in a non-threatening manner, your child will not only be more likely to agree to this new policy, but he will also feel like an integral and valued member of your family. You will also be reinforcing the importance of cooperation and responsibility.

2) The consequences andor rewards that will accompany the change
For example, you may decide to deduct 50 cents from your child's allowance for every piece of laundry left on the floor. Be sure to explain this plan to your child. If you have previously just given an allowance without an incentive, your child may need some time to adjust to this new policy.

In order for your plan to succeed, you have to make sure you have chosen something about which you can be completely consistent. This can be the most challenging part of the exercise.

In the next discipline lesson, say good-bye to "gimmes" and "gotta have its", and find out how to help your kids learn self-control.


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