Setting boundaries for children and the parental roles - Dr. Tal center
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The importance of setting limits for children and the parents' position

How does one balance the disadvantages of a home in which everything is allowed and a rigidity that turns the home into an army base? How does one preserve a child's joy in life and sense of freedom without unlimited permissiveness? How does one maintain values, such as respect for others and tolerance, that are not based on the fear of punishment?

A family is like a miniature model of a society; it is a framework that provides warmth and love but can also cause pressures and conflicts.

In many homes, it is common to see behaviors in which we would not dare to indulge outside the home being practiced within the home without fear of rejection.

At the same time, it is important to understand that establishing rules and procedures at home is necessary in order to provide the children with a sense of confidence, which is so vital for them.

Setting limits is relevant from the age of two years, approximately. It is important that the limits set are compatible with the child's developmental, cognitive and emotional ability.

When we set a limit, we have to make sure that it is realistic, not arbitrary, adjusted to the changing reality of the parent and child, applied with discretion, and non-judgmental.

The process of setting limits is gradual and slowly internalized, but when it is done correctly, it will become the correct way to regulate the child's behavior.

Important rules to succeed in the attempt to set limits:

  1. Steadfastness: Each promise has to be fulfilled! If you made a threat, or gave a warning in reaction to some behavior, you have to execute that threat or warning.

    In addition, it is important that the reaction will be realistic and applicable. Unrealistic threats, such as not seeing friends for one month, will make the child lose his trust in his parent and later on, to defy authority.
  2. A distinction should be made between setting a limit and reacting out of anger, being judgmental, or lecturing. If you get upset when you are setting a limit, you are missing the point.

    It is important not to judge the child, but approach the limit in a business-like manner, being determined but not aggressive ("I don’t allow you to hit others, although you're very angry, and I understand it.").
  3. It is important to plan ahead (both parents in cooperation) the reaction to behaviors that cross the line of acceptability. A planned and non-impulsive reaction increases the chances of establishing consistency and parental authority and reduces the chance that the parent will not keep the limit.
  1. Consistency: A reaction that can be anticipated establishes the limit for the child and creates a calm atmosphere; therefore, one must be careful as much as possible to react in the same manner each time a limit is crossed.
  2. Give the child a score – emphasize the desired behavior.
  3. Personal example: The parent loses his influence if he does not meet the require standards he set for his child. "Don't Talk the Talk if You Can't Walk the Walk" – this is the basis of limit setting.
  4. Choosing a reward or prize for good behavior: Studies indicate that children will make more effort in order to gain a prize than to avoid punishment.

    Therefore introduce from time to time a symbolic prize for keeping the limits. This could be candy, praise or any other prize that gives the child an inner feeling of desired and relevant value, all in accordance with your child's special personality.
  5. Clearly define, in a manner that is not subject to interpretation, the behavior that you are interested in changing.

    For example "you have to behave nicely" is a broad and unclear definition that may lead to debates and frustrations. On the other hand, "I don’t allow you to curse mom and dad" – is clearer and can be internalized.

Many parents assume that a good and loving parent is an enabling parent; a cruel or hostile parent is a limiting and inhibiting parent.

Try to adopt a more flexible approach toward this attitude. A world without limits is not freedom, enjoyment and liberation, but a reality of fear and confusion.

Adopt a new assumption: a parent who sets limits is a protecting, calming, and enhancing parent.

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