Being both an educator and a parent, I have often found it difficult to avoid drawing parallels between educating and parenting:
- How come some teachers/parents never have to raise their voices to get obeyed and others seem to have to yell to get the slightest attention from their students/children?
- How come certain teachers/parents seem to have such “well behaved” students/kids?
- How come certain teachers/parents appear to have it all together and others always seem to struggle to “be in control”?
One of the reasons that explains why some parents/teachers succeed where others fail is that both successful teachers and parents use effective boundaries. They set clear limits, but they set those limits with love.
In a study conducted in the 1960s, Diane Baumrind found that kids performed better on the social, academic and psychological front when their parents were firm and receptive at the same time. “Authoritative parenting” is a term that was coined from this study, and subsequent studies have found that many positive outcomes are associated with children raised by authoritative parents: autonomy, social and emotional development, empathy, consciousness, academic success, and less antisocial behavior.
What makes boundary-based discipline works
We are all bound by conscious or unconscious limits, and these limits dictate our behavior. These limits are what make you get up at a certain hour to avoid being late to work, or to drop your child to school. These limits dictate your behavior depending on the people you are with. These limits act as your “internal radar” and guide your behavior in different contexts. Why do these limits help “check” your behavior? Because you know that overstepping them leads to negative consequences and respecting them to positive ones.
Limits and boundaries are easy to discern for adults. The same is not true for children. Contrary to common belief, you child is not always able to differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Children are lost without clear limits. They are lost if they are not aware of the boundaries that dictate their behavior. Your child will drive you crazy if she does not know exactly what is expected of her.
This means that it is important to have high expectations, but setting expectations requires a delicate balancing act because expectations that are set too high are likely to exacerbate behavior problems.
Your child’s inability to respect limits can often be explained by a lack of consistency in terms of the consequences of inappropriate behavior. Boundary-based discipline can work only if the limits set are enforced consistently. Applying consequences for certain behavior today, then ignoring that behavior tomorrow, sends mixed signals that ultimately impact how your child behaves.
Children tend to look at life through a different-colored lens. It is normal not to understand certain child behaviors, but that does not mean that your child’s feelings are any less valid. Authoritative parenting is not an “all-or-nothing” approach. It is not a “because-I-said-so” approach. It is about being receptive to your child’s feelings and understanding that although certain things seem trivial in your eyes, they may mean the world to him. It is about being willing to see things from his perspective, listen to his point of view, and shift the limits whenever necessary.
Why you need to limit your limits
Anybody can set limits, but setting too many limits is a recipe for disaster. First, it can make you view your child as “ill behaved” and second, monitoring those limits is likely to leave you feeling tired and frustrated.
Setting too many limits is counterproductive. It only ends up confusing your child and makes it harder for you to focus on what really matters. When you set too many limits, you prevent your child from differentiating between your negotiables and non-negotiables and you also stand a higher risk of ruining your parent-child relationship, both in childhood and beyond
Before you set any limits, ask yourself these four questions:
- How important is this to me?
- How important is this to my child?
- Does this concern my negotiable or non-negotiable values?
- Is it reasonable? (does my child have the developmental capacity for this?)
Let us look at some practical examples:
- “Eat all your vegetables” – how important is it that your child eats all her vegetables? SHOULD YOU SET A LIMIT?
- Share your toys – how important is it that your child shares his toys? How important is it to him? If he has just received a new toy, is it fair to ask him to share it immediately? Is this a reasonable limit depending on his age? SHOULD YOU SET A LIMIT?
- Don’t hit/bite your sister/brother/others – How important is it that your child stops hitting. Is this a negotiable or non-negotiable value? SHOULD YOU SET A LIMIT?
- Play silently – How old is your child? Is this a reasonable limit? SHOULD YOU SET A LIMIT?
These four questions can help you limit your limits and focus on what really matters.
Simply setting limits is not important. What really matters is setting appropriate limits, and appropriate limits are those that are based on the values that matter to you and your family.
If you are struggling with your child’s behavior, check out our discipline resource page to identify a strategy adapted to your child and your entire family.